Long ago in a far off place, little Brett Keisel scored a touchdown.
OK, so maybe Keisel never was little. But we are talking 14 years and 60 pounds ago. It was the 1996 football season, and Keisel was a senior at Greybull High School.
That's Greybull, Wyo., a really far off place I think you will agree.
"I wore No. 4," Keisel recalled Sunday. "We lost a playoff game to Lusk High that year, but I caught a touchdown pass."
Keisel was a 225-pound tight end/middle linebacker back then. Today, he's a 285-pound defensive end for the Steelers with the same number of touchdowns this season as future Hall of Famer Hines Ward and one more than Pro Bowl tight end Heath Miller.
Yes, all these years later, Keisel will tell you there's still no place like the end zone.
The big man got to live the defensive lineman's dream Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium, seeing the football pop in the air off the hands of Buccaneers wide receiver Sammie Stroughter an instant before Steelers linebacker James Harrison put a big hit on him. Keisel was there to grab it "only because he hustled to the football," according to fellow defensive end Aaron Smith. "That's a hustle play, absolutely."
This time, Keisel's hands didn't fail him. Nine seasons in the NFL and this was his first interception. Only a week earlier in Tennessee, after Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley rattled Titans quarterback Kerry Collins and forced a fumble, Keisel had a chance to catch the ball out of the air but dropped it.
"Ah, I did that for [nose tackle Chris Hoke]," Keisel said. "He's been in the league 10 years and never had a fumble recovery. I wanted him to get one."
That's Keisel's story, and he's sticking to it.
Now, he has another tale to tell, and this one is priceless.
Doing what a former tight end is supposed to do, Keisel turned upfield at the Steelers' 21 and saw nothing but green in front of him. Well, green and Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman.
"I knew I couldn't let him tackle me," Keisel said. "If I had let him get me, these guys would never have let me hear the end of it.
"I had to score. If I didn't, everyone would say, 'He's getting old. He can't run like he used to.' To be able to actually score a touchdown like that and do it on a big stage is awesome."
No, Freeman wasn't a problem. Woodley made sure of that, taking him out with a block. Cornerbacks William Gay and Ike Taylor also were there to provide an escort service for Keisel.
"You see how I slowed down to use my blockers?" Keisel teased coach Mike Tomlin after the game. Later, in a serious moment, he said, "We practice that play all the time. When a guy gets a pick, we all run to the ball and look for someone to block. That's been a difference for this team in a Super Bowl here."
The reference was to Harrison's 100-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII.
Keisel went 79 yards up the same sideline to score in the same end zone for the Steelers' final points in their 38-13 win against the Buccaneers.
"They might need to use me as a tight end a little bit," Keisel said, playfully.
I'm thinking Miller isn't too concerned.
The Steelers' plan is to keep Keisel at defensive end, thank you very much. Tomlin and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, though glad to see his touchdown, treasure his work against the run even more because it has been a big factor in the team's improbable 3-0 start without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The Buccaneers ran for just 75 yards, following a 46-yard rushing day by the Titans and a 58-yard day by the Atlanta Falcons in the opening game Sept. 12. Buccaneers leading rusher Cadillac Williams ran for 13 yards, the Titans' Chris Johnson for 34 yards and the Falcons' Michael Turner for 42 yards.
That's hardly all Keisel, but ...
"He's playing his [fanny] off," Smith said.
Keisel got to lug home a football from Tampa as his reward.
"Yeah, I'm keeping it," he said. "I'll probably put it next to my Super Bowl ball."
That goes back to Super Bowl XLIII. Keisel recovered a fumble by Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner after a Woodley sack in the final seconds, effectively ending the Steelers' 27-23 win and their sixth Super Bowl title.
"Woodley still wants that ball," Keisel said. "If I ever let him get his hands on it, I'll never see it again. He's not getting it."
Now there's a story you can be sure Keisel will have no problem sticking to.
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org . 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 September 28, 2010 4:00 AM