Keisel’s beard hits celebrity status

My first priority Tuesday wasn’t interviewing Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel.

I wanted to speak to The Beard.

Keisel’s kisser isn’t framed by just any old facial hair. This is something that belongs in the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium located in nearby Grand Prairie.

Eight months of unfettered growth has created a brown, grizzly spectacle that is both gross and beautiful at the same time.

It’s gross from an aesthetic standpoint. It’s beautiful if you’re a superstitious Steelers player or a fan that has helped give The Beard its own identity through "Fear the Beard" T-shirts and Twitter and Facebook accounts.

"I have to blame my teammates, really," Keisel said Tuesday at Super Bowl XLV Media Day inside Cowboys Stadium. "When I started this thing, I said, ‘As long as we’re winning games, I’ll let this grow.’ It’s really their fault."

All right, Brett. That’s enough from you. Let’s hear from The Beard.

I opened our interview by asking when The Beard took on a life of its own.

"I think when it started getting cooler," The Beard said. "When the snow started falling in Pittsburgh, The Beard overwhelmed."

Favorite hobby? "Playing football."

Favorite food? "Steak."

Favorite movie? "Braveheart."

Favorite TV show: "(The Beard) really doesn’t watch too much TV. There’s other things to do."

Why doesn’t The Beard have any endorsement deals? "Maybe that will happen later."

And, finally, what’s the toughest thing about always having to hang out with Brett Keisel the person?

"It’s not tough at all," The Beard said. "The toughest thing is probably Brett’s wife (Sarah). But she’s been great through all this. Hopefully, this will carry us through one more game."

The Steelers are counting on both Keisel and The Beard to do just that Sunday against the Green Bay Packers.

The Beard may have brought the Steelers good luck, but Keisel has provided something more tangible. Keisel was so sound as Pittsburgh’s starting right defensive end that he was voted a first alternate to the Pro Bowl.

Such an honor wasn’t expected entering the season for two reasons. First, Keisel plays in a 3-4 defensive system where the ends and nose tackle basically serve as grunts. Keisel’s main job is tying up offensive linemen so his linebackers can scrape and make tackles. This explains his modest 2010 statistical totals of 33 tackles and three sacks.

Players of Keisel’s age (32) also shouldn’t be ascending. Yet his ninth NFL season was Keisel’s best on what was arguably the league’s top defense.

"His last three years have been exceptional, really," Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. "Brett’s the kind of player who keeps getting better because he works so hard."

Keisel’s work ethic helps explain why a 2002 seventh-round draft pick from Brigham Young can last so long in the NFL. The Beard has brought Keisel the national exposure he long was lacking. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said Keisel’s beard has gotten so scraggly that "we go hunting and he hides his decoys in there."

Keisel wasn’t inspired by the celebrated beard of San Francisco Giants relief pitcher Brian Wilson. Keisel began growing The Beard while on a summertime hunting trip with his father. Lane Keisel hasn’t shaved since then, either, but he isn’t sporting the same caliber monstrosity as his son.

"It’s special," said Roethlisberger, whose own playoff beard pales in comparison to Keisel’s. "I don’t know what else to say about it. It’s special and scary."

Keisel has made the most of his time in the playoff spotlight through witty media exchanges. For example, Keisel was asked whether The Beard would win a fight if pitted against Steelers safety Troy Polamalu’s trademark long locks.

"That’s a good question," Keisel said. "Troy’s hair is phenomenal. It’s been there for a long time. It’s been to the top of the mountain. My beard has just begun. It would be a grudge match. I’m confident in The Beard."

Packers offensive linemen also have grown beards, but none compares. Keisel was told that Packers left guard Daryn Colledge had jokingly accused The Beard of taking performance-enhancing substances.

"I’m all natural," Keisel responded.

Packers long-snapper Brett Goode began growing his beard eight weeks ago but already was forced to trim the mustache area twice because of problems with "food and drinking water."

"I wouldn’t be able to get that far," Goode said.

Keisel deals with the same dining issue as Goode but has refused to reach for the clippers — even the pair his wife bought him for Christmas.

"The worst part is hairballs and things like that in my mouth from my mouthpiece," he said.

Keisel then began fiddling with a mustache that would make Tom Selleck envious.

"You just have to kind of brush it to the side and stroke it a little bit," he said.

"It’s really not that itchy. I shampoo and condition. It’s actually pretty soft. People are pretty surprised when they touch it. I’ve gotten used to it."

Keisel soon will have to adjust to life without it. A shave is coming after Super Bowl XLV — win or lose.

"The Beard is going to raise some money for charity hopefully," Keisel said. "I have two back in Pittsburgh — the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and Homeless Children’s Education Fund. We’ll do something for them."

For the Steelers and Keisel himself, The Beard has done plenty already.