DALLAS -- Pittsburgh likes its athletes to be great, but it also likes them to be humble. I'm guessing the city will make an exception for Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel. "I truly believe I have the greatest beard of all time," he said.
How's that for humility?
It's hard to argue with Keisel, isn't it? His beard certainly is in the conversation of great beards. You see the picture on this page. Maybe you've seen his new "Respect The Beard, Fear the Deisel" T-shirt. If you haven't, do yourself a favor and go to brettkeisel.com. You will see a wide- and wild-eyed Keisel and all his hair looking back at you. You likely will want one of the shirts, which is a good thing because a big hunk of the proceeds will go to his two favorite charities, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the Homeless Children's Education Fund.
"The beard is powerful," Keisel said. "It has magical powers. Hopefully, it'll create some magic on Super Bowl Sunday."
I'm going to do something here that's probably not too smart. I'm going to risk offending Keisel, who doesn't just look freaky-mean these days but is 6 feet 5, 285 pounds. What the heck. I don't think Keisel's beard had a darn thing to do with the Steelers getting to Super Bowl XLV against the Green Bay Packers. But his performance had a lot to do with it.
Yes, Keisel's beard dominated the conversation Monday when he met briefly with the national media after the Steelers arrived in Texas. It will dominate the conversation all week. But the beard isn't the best part of his story. At 32, in his ninth NFL season, he was named to the Pro Bowl for the first time despite missing five games and most of a sixth with a hamstring injury. He was a late addition when Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney pulled out of the game with an injury.
Keisel received a lot of national attention when he laboriously returned an interception 79 yards for a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers early in the season. But that's not what made him a Pro Bowler. He was stout, as always, against the run as the Steelers had the NFL's No. 1-ranked rush defense. He also was a force as a pass-rusher. In the seven games, counting playoffs, since he returned from his injury, he had two sacks and eight quarterback pressures. He also batted down at least one pass in five of those games.
"When coach [Mike] Tomlin first told the team in December who made the Pro Bowl" -- safety Troy Polamalu, linebacker James Harrison and center Maurkice Pouncey -- "he said I was a first alternate," Keisel said. "I kind of forgot about it. I've watched [defensive end] Aaron Smith be a great player here for years and years and he only made it one time. I never dreamed I would ever make it."
That's why Tomlin took so much joy when he told Keisel Jan. 15 that he was on the AFC Pro Bowl roster.
"But he said I wouldn't be going because I was going to be busy," Keisel said, grinning.
The Pro Bowl was played Sunday night in Honolulu. Representatives from the Steelers and Packers were excused from the game because -- Tomlin nailed it -- they are a little busy.
You know, getting ready for the Super Bowl.
"It's kind of getting surreal," Keisel said. "You're starting to feel like there's greatness in the air. We have a wonderful opportunity. This team just needs to do one more game, finish one more time."
The beard is powerful. It has magical powers ...
Sorry, I couldn't help myself.
You knew I would get back there, didn't you? Keisel decided to let his beard and hair grow at the Steelers' minicamp in late spring to change the team's luck after it missed the playoffs last season. "I really wanted to see what it looked like if we went all the way. Now we're here."
Keisel said the beard is a lot of work. "You have to shampoo it and condition it every day." He also doesn't pretend to like what he sees in his mirror but is able to laugh about that. "I saw a picture of myself when I was shaving. I'm a really good-looking guy."
The support Keisel has received from Steelers fans has made it all worthwhile. It has blown him away, actually. Especially the support from his wife, Sarah, who had their second child in November.
"She's been great about it even if she's gotten a bad rap because I'm always joking about her," Keisel said. "It isn't easy waking up to this every morning. She knows she married someone who looks better than a mountain man."
So the story Keisel has told about his wife putting a razor in his stocking Christmas morning isn't true?
"Oh, no, that's true. That happened," Keisel said.
Win or lose Sunday night, Keisel said the beard will come off next week. "We'll do something fun with it for charity." Obviously, everyone involved will have a lot more fun if the Steelers win and Keisel gets his third Super Bowl ring in six seasons.
Tomlin, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger aren't leaving anything to chance. All have followed Keisel's lead and grown postseason beards.
But theirs is just hair.
Keisel's beard is the greatest of all time.
Just ask him, he'll tell you.
Ron Cook: email@example.com . Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. First Published February 1, 2011 5:00 AM