DALLAS — It would be logical to assume that the Steelers have reached Super Bowl XLV thanks to their No. 2-ranked defense. Or their No. 1-ranked scoring defense. Or their plus-17 turnover differential. Or maybe because of the fine coaching of Mike Tomlin and his staff.
But apparently that's not the case at all.
"The beard — the beard is why we're here," argued Steelers DE Brett Keisel, owner of the No. 1 beard in league history, according to NFL Network. "It's unleashed Super Bowl powers on our whole team and hopefully it can win us one more."
There's no denying that Keisel has grown himself an impressive beard, which he says is simply named "The Beard."
"There's no other beard that matches it, so it's just 'The Beard'," Keisel said.
The bushy bundle of facial hair has taken on a life of its own. It has its own Facebook page. It has a Twitter account. There is a T-shirt. And it was a frequent topic of conversation in Dallas, with the friendly Keisel happy to oblige curious reporters who wanted to get to know "The Beard."
"I am from Pittsburgh and we have a great hockey team and they grow their beards out," he explained. "In June, I was thinking that it would be seven months if we make it to the Super Bowl. We are shooting for our seventh Super Bowl ring, and the Steelers were made in 1933, which is 77 years to date. I said I'd give this thing seven months and see if it will get us to Dallas, and here we are."
It's an amazing story, really. It's a safe bet that this is the first time in NFL history — perhaps professional sports history — that a beard has propelled a team to the title game.
In a league that has increasingly become infatuated with hair — think Troy Polamalu, Clay Matthews, Larry Fitzgerald, etc. — one man's facial hair has been all the rage, to the point that some opponents are a tad jealous.
"I respect his beard," said Packers OG Daryn Colledge, who sports a fine one himself, albeit a shorter, better-trimmed beard. "I wish I could grow a beard like that."
But there's more to Keisel than "The Beard."
He's a ninth-year pro who came to the Steelers as a seventh-round draft pick in 2002 out of Brigham Young. During his time in Pittsburgh, he has become an integral part of the Steelers' 3-4 defense and has won two Super Bowl rings. He has proven to be productive when it counts most, with 34 career tackles, three sacks, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries in 14 postseason games. In Super Bowl XLIII, Keisel recovered a fumble near the end of that game that sealed the Steelers' victory.
Defensive ends in 3-4 systems generally do the dirty work. They clog things up, freeing up the linebackers to make the big plays. But Keisel got a chance to shine in Week Three's 38-13 win over the Buccaneers. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Keisel picked off Bucs QB Josh Freeman. The 6-5, 285-pounder then rumbled 79 yards for a touchdown. It was his first career interception and touchdown.
"His last three years have been exceptional, really," Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. "Brett is the kind of player that he just keeps getting better because he works so hard. The high side of the coaching profession is definitely to see young men come in, improve, improve, improve, and like this year, he was recognized and chosen for the Pro Bowl. Those are the kind of stories that you carry around with you forever in the coaching profession."
But enough of this football stuff. We know what's really on your mind. After Sunday, when the 2010 season officially comes to an end, what fate awaits "The Beard?"
"Yeah, it's coming off at some point," Keisel said. "Hopefully we'll win (and) I can go home and pull the Lombardi (Trophy) out of the beard for all the fans to see and then I think I'll have to whack if off or my wife might leave me."