Keisel says goodbye to the beard

The classic rock song "Renegade," the anthem of the Steelers' defense, blasted over the loud speakers, fans were decked out in black and gold, and there was excitement and anticipation in the air.

It might sound like the atmosphere at Heinz Field on game day, but instead it was the crowd at Jergel's Rhythm Grille on hand to watch Steelers' defensive end Brett Keisel shave his beard. Yes, a packed house to watch someone shave their beard.

"This is what makes Pittsburgh special," said Keisel. "It's awesome to see Pittsburgh come out again in such droves to support such a great cause. They have grasped on to this idea and really made it what it is today. If the fans didn't respond to it the way they did, I wouldn't do it."

Keisel shaved the beard, with a little help from some friends, at the third annual Shear Da Beard. Teammates, coaches, his son Jacob and even Steelers' chairman Dan Rooney all got a chance to cut a bit of the mountain man beard, while Coach Mike Tomlin cheered them on and took a clip at it as well.

"I've got to admit it's pretty unique," said Tomlin of the event. "After six years here I can't tell you that it surprises me.

"I like him with the beard. I think it's his natural state. I think this thing has taken off and given him the opportunity to do what he probably likes to do anyway, which is not shave. He is a larger than life character and I think the beard fits his personality."

A clean-shaven Keisel took the stage to "Sharp Dressed Man," unrecognizable to many, including his two-year old daughter Grace.

"My daughter came in the door and she was like who is that. I don't know him," said Keisel. "I had to get my voice out toher and make sure she realized it was me talking to her. She finally warmed up to me."

Shear Da Beard benefited the cancer programs at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh at UPMC, with the money going towards the continued research the hospital does as well as various programs.

"Brett's beard really has taken on a life of it's own and Shear Da Beard has become a great annual event to support cancer programs and research at Children's Hospital," said Christopher Gessner, president, Children's Hospital. "We're extremely grateful to Brett, and more importantly to his wife Sarah for letting him grow the beard back each season."

Keisel recently had the chance to spend time with kids on the cancer and oncology floor, a visit that was uplifting and emotional at the same time.

"Obviously I enjoy the beard, but knowing at the end of every season how much good it can do, how much help it can create for these kids is special," said Keisel. "Going there and seeing them and how brave and strong they are fills me with pride knowing something good is coming from this mane of mine."

Keisel began growing the beard before the start of the season and promised to not shave it off until season's end. The idea to shave it the last three years to benefit Children's Hospital's cancer programs arose because of his friendship with former teammate Aaron Smith, whose son Elijah was treated for leukemia at the hospital.

"Aaron Smith taught me so much about being a man, football and living" said Keisel. "Their family got a lot of help from children's hospital. I am giving back in honor of them and what they have done for me in my life."

Smith was on hand at the event with Elijah, both of them taking their turn to cut off a hunk of the beard.

"I think it speaks to what team is and what this team is," said Tomlin of Keisel's reason for choosing Children's Hospital to benefit from the fun event. "We care for one another and it provides avenues where we can share personal trials and learn from them and see the platform and opportunity we have to help others."

The hospital benefits financially from the event, but there is more to it. The kids have formed a bond with Keisel, and his beard has become a symbol to them of his love for them.

"To know one player in particular, and the Steelers as a whole organization, is thinking about them and doing something just for them not only helps with the financial impact, but it really lifts the spirits of all of the kids," said Dr. Jake Cooper, an attending physician in hematology and oncology. "The people here view his huge mammoth beard as a sign of his affection for Children's Hospital and his support for all of our patients. They love it. You see a lot of fake beards being worn by the kids for solidarity and team spirit."

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