Shutdown Corner - NFL

The breakout star of Super Bowl week hasn't been a quarterback, a linebacker or a coach, but an 8-month-old beard belonging to Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel(notes). Join us as Shutdown Corner honors the greatness that is "the beard."

Origin: Keisel began growing his beard after a hunting trip with his father in June.  While most beard-growing athletes tend to wait until the playoffs to start their playoff beards, Keisel figured he'd get a jump on things by starting seven months early. "I have my teammates to blame," Keisel said to reporters. "I said that as long as we're winning games, I'll let this thing go. So it's their fault."  

Maintenance: The defensive end says he shampoos and conditions the beard occasionally to "brush the birds and squirrels out." His wife had her own hair-care tip, giving Keisel a razor for Christmas. So far, it's gone unused.

Popularity: The beard (or "da beard" as Keisel sometimes refers to it) has its own fan page on Facebook. There are currently 22,000 members, many of whom are posting "facts" about the beard, like "the groundhog didn't see his shadow because Keisel's beard caused an eclipse." A website has been created where fans can Photoshop themselves with the beard, sort of like a Grizzly Adams version of Flat Stanley. Songs have been written about it as well. So far it appears there's no truth to the speculation that Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" is about the beard.

Harmony and philanthropy: Though Keisel says his beard would win in a fight with Troy Polamalu's(notes) hair, the Pro Bowler still found time to put on a Polamalu wig during media day, ushering in a new era of harmony between curly hair and mountain-man beards. Meanwhile, all sales of beard merchandise on Keisel's website will go to Cystic Fibrosis research. Truly, he is a just and kind beard.

Controversy: Despite rumors, Keisel insists his beard is natural. "People are saying that I’m taking beard-enhancing drugs," he said, "but I’m not.”

Support: Keisel revels in the fact that he has a job that allows him to go to work looking like a 1920s Lumberjack. He told reporters that Dan Rooney, the Steelers' 78-year-old owner, told him to keep it but said he'd be calling him "Santa" if he did. Santa had three tackles in the AFC championship game.

Accolades: Jack Passion, the two-time defending world champion in the "natural full beard" category says the beard is real and healthy. "It is like the coat of a wolf," he told the New York Times. The Beaver County Times says Keisel's beard is "the scruff of legends." The NFL Network also listed it as the best NFL beard of all time.

Future: Win or lose, Keisel expects the beard to go soon after the Super Bowl. He says he entertained the notion of keeping it, but some factors (his razor-buying wife, for instance) changed his mind. So bask in its greatness while you can, my friends. We shant see the likes of it in the NFL anytime soon ... unless Ulysses S. Grant has a great-great-great-great-grandson who can play some ball.

Thanks, New York Times.

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