FAIRVIEW, Sanpete County — The key to the Pittsburgh Steelers making it to the Super Bowl is sitting right here in Lane Keisel's ranch house.
Well, half of the key.
Last June, eight long months ago, Lane and his son Brett, who plays defensive end for the Steelers, were hunting in Wyoming. They hadn't shaved on the trip. Both of them had a pretty good start on a beard.
"Brett said, 'I'm not going to cut mine until we make the playoffs,'" remembers Lane. "I said I'd grow mine too.
"It was a good luck kind of thing."
Now look at them.
Brett and his Steelers teammates are headed from Pittsburgh to Dallas this week for Super Bowl XLV Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, while here in Sanpete County, Lane and Connie Keisel will be locking up the house this Thursday, asking somebody to feed the horse, and likewise making their way to Dallas.
Brett did the dirty work. The former BYU and Snow College football player anchored the right end of the Steelers line throughout a 12-4 regular season and playoff wins over the Baltimore Ravens and the New York Jets. Despite injury problems in the middle of the season, he finished with 33 tackles in 11 games, 3 sacks, seven pass deflections and an interception that went for a touchdown. All in all his best NFL season yet — and he's got his first-ever Pro Bowl invitation to prove it.
All Lane had to do was grow his beard.
"I don't dare shave," he says. "I'm not a superstitious person. but I'm also not one to push the envelope."
The same goes for his son, whose beard has taken on a life of its own. As the Steelers season has steamrolled, so has The Beard. It's been called the best beard in sports. A thing of legend. Glorious. The Steelers Secret Weapon. The Beard has its own Twitter page and Facebook page (Brett Keisel's Beard). It's been on magazine covers and in newspapers from coast to coast. It has its own T-shirt line. The other day it had its own press conference. If the Steelers win the Super Bowl it just might be enshrined forever in the Hall of Fame.
Since last June, Brett's beard has grown to immense dimensions. It could double as a blanket. Small children could play in it.
His dad's, on the other hand, is more George Clooney than Grizzly Adams.
Lane strokes it caringly.
"I said I wouldn't cut it," he says, "I didn't say I wouldn't trim it."
One person who is not a bit surprised that no male in the family has shaved since last June — not Brett nor Lane nor Brett's brother Chad nor his brother-in-law Paul nor any number of other relatives, or that it was Brett who got it started — is Connie Keisel.
"Brett's always had this ability to have fun, to remember that it's still a game," says his mother.
It helps explain how a rather unheralded seventh round draft choice out of BYU in 2000 is still playing professional football nine years later, on the same team, and chasing his third Super Bowl ring.
His football stock just keeps rising -- from his days playing at small Greybull High School in Wyoming (his parents are both from Utah and moved back after Brett graduated from high school), to Snow and BYU and finally the NFL. Keisel was a reserve on the Steelers team that won Super Bowl XL in 2006 over the Seattle Seahawks and a starter two years ago in Super Bowl XLIII when his fumble recovery with five seconds left effectively sealed Pittsburgh's 27-23 win over the Arizona Cardinals.
All that was prelude for the Year of the Beard.
And after Sunday's big game?
Connie reports that Brett's wife, Sarah, put a razor in his stocking for Christmas.
He gives a noncommittal smile.
It does look pretty good.
Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Monday and Friday. E-mail: [email protected]