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Fear the Super powers of the beard of Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel

“I know I was handsome, but I don’t remember what I looked like,” Steelers DE Brett Keisel says of life pre-beard.

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“I know I was handsome, but I don’t remember what I looked like,” Steelers DE Brett Keisel says of life pre-beard.

FORT WORTH, Texas — He has never been convicted, you know. He was never even charged.

Yet he must stand in front of large crowds of reporters and defend his good name day after day. He must talk about a story that began months ago and has nothing to do with how he will play against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

This is the seamy side of celebrity. The part of the Super Bowl the NFL does not want you to know about.

"I guess the Packers were saying I'm taking beard-enhancing drugs," Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel said. "I'm really not.

"This is all natural, and something beautiful."

He seems sincere. He sounds trust­worthy. You look into his eyes and you want to believe he is being honest when he says his wife put a razor in his Christmas stocking. But the truth is, no one knows what went on when Keisel and his beard were alone in that bathroom.

And so he is hounded by questions.

When did he start letting his beard grow out? (In June.) Why would he let it consume his face? (He wasn't going to shave while the Steelers were winning.) Is he pimping for ZZ Top? (No, he's more of a Johnny Cash guy.)

This is what happens in the age of social media. Stories linger, and rumors spread. Next thing you know, every facial hair gets combed by the same brush.

"The beard is getting too caught up in all this media attention," Keisel said Wednesday. "It needs to focus more on the game."

Naturally, this is easier said than done. The beard has a T-shirt ("Respect the Beard; Fear the Diesel"). A Pittsburgh radio station has put out a song about it. The beard is on Twitter. It has its own Facebook page.

It has a website (keiselbeardme.com) where people can Photoshop Keisel's beard onto their pictures. Or pictures of their infants. Or their cats. It was nearing 10,000 photos and growing rapidly Wednesday night.

The beard is threatening to take over. Already, Keisel has acknowledged that he cannot recall his face.

"I know I was handsome," Keisel said, "but I don't remember what I looked like."

Why don't reporters want to talk about Keisel's performance on the field? Why don't they ask how a guy who was taken with the 242nd pick in the 2002 draft and didn't start a game for three years is now considered the anchor of a defensive line?

Why doesn't anyone point out that Tampa Bay is desperate for defensive ends and yet the Bucs chose Marquis Walker, Travis Stephens, John Stamper and Tim Wansley while Keisel was still on the board in 2002?

Why doesn't anyone realize Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense would not work without a defensive end like Keisel, 32, who has the bulk of an interior lineman (6 feet 5, 285 pounds) but enough quickness to get upfield after the passer. Why hasn't the world caught on to Keisel maybe being the epitome of the hard-working, loyal, blue collar persona the Steelers thrive on?

Yeah, nobody talks about any of that.

"The biggest thing is we're unselfish," Keisel said. "When we meet as a defensive front with coach (John Mitchell), the first thing he tells us is, 'I don't care if you make a play. I want you to do your job. As long as you're doing your job, you're going to be the reason someone else makes a play.' That's how our defense is run. We spend a lot of time occupying other blockers so our linebackers can make plays. We don't get a lot of limelight, but we understand that. We don't mind that."

And now the limelight has finally reached Keisel, and it's shining directly on his beard.

He has been drilled about grooming tips. He has admitted the chin strap on his helmet is getting to be a problem. He has had people ask if they could touch the beard. He has made jokes about hiding weapons, food and critters in his beard.

Even as the beard has overwhelmed the man, Keisel has remained committed to the cause. Because of the honor code at BYU, he was never allowed to grow a beard in college. Now he's talking about whisker amnesty at BYU — that if the Steelers win the Super Bowl, perhaps his old school will allow students to go razor-free for a month in honor of the beard.

"The beard is why we're here," he said. "It's unleashed Super Bowl powers on our whole team."

By midweek, talk of beard-enhancing drugs has died down, but the damage is done. The accusations will remain long after the beard has been reduced to stubble. And Keisel has pretty much acknowledged that day is rapidly approaching. Another week or two, and the beard will be circling the drain.

"Hopefully we'll win and I can go home and pull the Lombardi (Trophy) out of the beard for all the fans to see," Keisel said. "Then I think I'll have to whack it off or my wife might leave me."

So is it clean or tainted? Is it juiced or natural?

Only Keisel and his beard know the truth.

And one of them isn't talking.

Fear the Super powers of the beard of Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel 02/02/11 [Last modified: Thursday, February 3, 2011 7:12am]

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