Keisel shaves off his epic beard

In Pittsburgh, it's something that basically puts a bow on the previous football season and wipes the slate clean for the next year.

Brett Keisel has his beard sheared by family, friends and teammates to help raise money for the Children's Hospital.

It's a time to move on, to have a fresh start, and once again begin a quest for a Super Bowl Championship.

No, it's not about free agency, its not about the draft, or training camp, or even anything football related.

It's about a beard.

On Wednesday night Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel did what he has done the previous four years, he shaved off his beard for charity at Shear Da Beard, surrounded by teammates and coaches, including former teammates James Farrior and Casey Hampton who surprised him. He then emerged in front of a screaming, Terrible Towel waving crowd clean shaven.

Brett 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 it two years prior. It worked, 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 five years ago has grown into a sold out event and a beard that has taken on a life of it's own, something that still surprises Keisel almost as much as his own career surprises him, going from a seventh round draft pick to a two-time Super Bowl champion.

"I couldn't have ever imagined my NFL life aside from being a special teams' player," said Keisel. "I thought that was going to be the limit and I was pretty dang proud of that. Being able to be on a great team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and to go win a Super Bowl as a special teams' guy and a guy that comes off the bench, I thought that was the limit. It kept going and kept going. Here we are, 13 years and down the line, and it's pretty mind boggling really.

"Pittsburgh is a special city and maybe the only city in the world that could do such a crazy event. People have really jumped on this thing. I constantly get emails and letters from fans that are doing similar events, whether they are cutting off their hair that they have grown for years or their beard. There are people out there who are aware and trying to do something good. That is what I am most proud of. Other people have grabbed onto the idea and are making a difference."

Nobody has made more of a difference, though, than Keisel. The annual Shear Da Beard event benefits the Division of Hematology/Oncology at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh at UPMC, inspired then by former teammate Aaron Smith's son Elijah who was battling leukemia and undergoing treatment at Children's Hospital.

"Over the years, Brett has been a true champion for the kids at Children's Hospital and he has a special place in our hearts," said Christopher Gessner, president, Children's Hospital. " He's helped raised money for our cancer research programs, helped support our Free Care Fund, and brought endless smiles to our patients with his visits. His heart is bigger than his beard, and that's saying something."

Keisel is a regular visitor to Children's Hospital, bringing smiles to kids faces and smiling himself when he sees some of the kids sporting 'beards' of their own.

"I think for me the biggest thing is seeing what it has done for Children's Hospital," said Keisel. "Doing this Shear Da Beard event, everything goes to them. Any time there has been a doubt, any time I thought about cutting it off and being fresh, I always think about those kids and the ones I met who told me how much it means to them, you keep going. It's blessed me unconditionally. It's been an incredible thing for me as well. I love the beard.

"I think that is what makes it special, that is what has made it what it is, because of the response. The kids in the hospital, for some of them, it is a symbol of hope. Especially for some of the kids that don't have a lot of family or people in their lives. They've got a big bearded guy thinking about them and trying to find a cure for this disease."

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