DALLAS – The debate over which Super Bowl XLV team has the edge can be argued convincingly from either side.
On this, however, there’s no splitting hairs: Pittsburgh defensive end Brett Keisel has the best, most-prodigious, most-talked-about beard of the week.
And not just by a whisker.
“There’s no other beard that matches it,” Keisel conceded, trying to maintain some modesty, “so it’s just ‘The Beard.’ ”
Just about every other Steeler has some sort of facial hair – including their bearded coach and quarterback – but none of them has both a Facebook site and Twitter account (neither started by him) dedicated specifically to his Grizzly Adams chin warmer.
“The beard is why we’re here,” said Keisel, in his ninth season out of BYU. “It’s unleashed Super Bowl powers on our whole team and hopefully it can win us one more.”
The pressure created by Keisel and the rest of the defensive front will determine a lot of that. The Steelers had the NFL’s best run defense by far this season, and the key Sunday will be putting the heat on Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
“He makes things happen,” Keisel said of Rodgers. “He’s a lot like our quarterback (Ben Roethlisberger) where it looks like he’s going to get taken down, and all of a sudden he’s out running for 40 yards. He’s got great speed.”
And then there’s Rodgers’ remarkably strong arm …
“He can throw the ball 100 yards it looks like,” Keisel said, maybe exaggerating a bit. “Because he can throw it 50, and it’s 6 feet off the ground. It’s like a bullet.
“That’s going to be the key to the game, win or lose. If we can get to him, that will give ourselves a chance to win. If we can’t, that’s going to be a long night.”
If there are indeed mystical powers to the beard, Rodgers is in trouble. At best this week, he had a five-o’clock shadow.
Then again, compared to Keisel, everyone is essentially clean shaven. His beard covers his neck and sprays down to the top of his considerable chest. The beard, like Pittsburgh’s deep-threat receivers, almost does a double move, as if there’s a beard growing under the beard.
“It’s its own entity,” Roethlisberger said. “He hides everything in there. We go hunting and he hides his decoys in there.”
A lot of talk this week has surrounded the flowing manes of Pittsburgh’s Troy Polamalu and Green Bay’s Clay Matthews. Keisel’s contribution to that discussion is even more meaningful, said Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton.
“Troy’s hair is just Troy’s hair,” Hampton said. “But the beard is a new thing. (Keisel) definitely gets more attention.”
Keisel has worn a beard that was more neatly trimmed. But in June he decided to let it grow until the Steelers’ season ended. In truth, it wasn’t an original idea.
“We’ve got a great hockey team and they grow their playoff beards out,” said Keisel, referring to the Pittsburgh Penguins. “I saw those guys looking burly and thought, ‘You know what? After minicamp in June, I’ve got seven months until the Super Bowl and we’re trying to win our seventh Super Bowl, so I’ll see if I can let this thing (grow) for seven months and this is the result.’ ”
His wife bought him a razor for Christmas and he has yet to take it out of the package. He admits he has some “maintenance problems” snapping his chinstrap and getting his mouthpiece in.
He said his wife “doesn’t really remember the guy she married, but she gets to wake up to this every morning and at least get a chuckle.”
Keisel said he doesn’t remember exactly what his face looks like but, with a smile, added: “I know it was handsome.”
And after Sunday? He might just open that Christmas gift.
“I’m going to take it off at some point,” he said. “I’m going to try and raise some money for charity with it or something. I’m going to miss it. It’s become a part of me.”