A final farewell to the beard

With the final snip, the last cut, the one last shear, it was so long to a legend.

Yes folks, it's true. Brett Keisel's beard is gone. And we don't know if it will ever return in its full glory.

The beard that became famous, that had a life of its own, is done after Keisel hosted the 10th and final Shear Da Beard on Thursday night at Jergel's Rhythm Grille in the North Hills.

There was entertainment, including Canadian country music star Brett Kissel, who won two straight Male Artist of the Year and Fans' Choice awards at the Canadian Country Music Association Awards, The Ghost Hounds, a rock band with Pittsburgh roots that Thomas Tull, a member of the Steelers ownership group, started and is part of and Shear Da Beard wouldn't be what it is without Pittsburgh's own Donnie Iris on stage.

There were former teammates galore, there to show their love and support of Keisel, and getting their shot at taking a final snip.

And his family, including his wife Sarah and his three kids, were also there, ready and waiting to see the clean-shaven Keisel.

"She has been great throughout this whole thing," said Keisel of his wife. "She puts up with my bearded antics. She is a straight rock for our family and doesn't get enough credit. I am so thankful to have somebody who is my best friend and someone who loves me bearded or not."

Keisel began to grow his now famous beard back in training camp in 2010 in an effort to get the Steelers back to the Super Bowl after winning Super Bowl XLIII two years prior. It worked, but only to an extent. The Steelers made it to Super Bowl XLV but lost to the Green Bay Packers.

Keisel was as disappointed as anybody after the Super Bowl loss, but he wanted to do something, wanted to end things on a positive note. So, he decided to shave off his beard, in public, for charity. What started on a whim grew into an event that lasted 10 years to benefit the cancer programs at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.

While he still plans on doing things to help the kids at Children's Hospital, he said that time was right to say goodbye to the beard.

"It was a harder decision than I expected making this the final one," admitted Keisel. "I thought when I was doing this, I would maybe take a break at 10 years. As I look in the mirror today it's surreal. We have been doing this and growing it and helping Children's Hospital. I think it's great to put an exclamation point on it and go out with a bang.

"I am always going to be involved with Children's Hospital, bearded or not. They're always going to be someone I am going to try and help and fundraise for, try and make a difference for, just because of how much they have taught me through these last 10 years. I could never repay them everything they have shown me, the strength they have shown me and the fight they have shown me."

Former Steelers DE Brett Keisel hosted the 10th and final Shear Da Beard event at Jergel's Rhythm Grille, with Keisel shearing his famous beard to raise money for cancer programs at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh

And that is what makes Keisel so special. While many view Keisel as doing something for the kids at the hospital, he looks at it a completely different way, having benefited like he never could have imagined by his involvement with the patients he has met throughout the years.

"I have gotten way more. Way more," said Keisel. "I filmed a promo with a little girl who is four-years old and she has been fighting this since she was born. She is tougher than a lot of men I have seen come through the Steelers locker room that come and go. These kids who are forced into these situations through no fault of their own, the fight that they show is truly remarkable. I don't take for granted what they do or take it lightly.

"I think it's the things I have seen whether it's been visiting Children's Hospital or talking to the families, the things I have heard, the circumstances the kids and families have to go through together. It's kind of that big picture thing that sometimes we lose sight of or we lose sight of that perspective. They have made me narrow my vision about what is important, what is valuable, how to be tough, how to fight. They have been just as much of an inspiration to me as some of the Steelers greats I have been around and been a part of, if not more.

"My favorite part is the interaction I have had with these kids, whether it's in the hospital with the kids, or taking them fishing, or getting them out of the hospital for a minute and hang out with them, talk to them about their lives and things they are into. Sometimes they are things I am into and we have an immediate connection. The perspective they give me in life every time I am around them, I could never thank them enough for. I think how much they appreciate life. How thankful they are to have the next day, or the next day, or the next week. For them to get better, feel better and do things we take for granted on a daily basis, they put life in perspective for me and I can't thank them enough for that."

It was a packed house for the final shear, from former teammates and coaches, to Steelers Nation once again selling the place out, something Keisel never takes for granted.

"That is the hard part ending it, knowing each year it becomes better, more people become aware, more people support it," said Keisel. "Each year we have been able to grow as the beard has come back each year. It's been amazing to be a part of this, to get to know some of the kids I first knew when they were six or seven years old and now they are 16 and 17 years old, young adults and how much they have changed, how much they have grown and how much that hospital had an impact on them.

"This even is more of a recognition for Steelers Nation and the fans who watch the black and gold play. I go out there, my teammates come and cut my beard with scissors and clippers. But the fans who show up and donate online and acknowledge it and help, that is why we are as successful as we are in our fundraising. They deserve just as much a pat on the back as anybody because that is what makes the city special. We support each other, we look out for one another and we have a big heart for these kids.

"I am going to miss seeing everybody. I think we can still do some fun events. I love the reunion that happens in mid-February when a lot of the teammates come, the coaches come, Mr. (Art) Rooney has come. We have had Penguins and Pirates come. It's been amazing to see the support of Pittsburgh. I am going to miss that, but I think I can round up some other type of way we can help Children's without some guy having to shave and get cleaned up."

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