Photo Gallery: Shear Da Beard
When Brett Keisel first tossed around the idea of publicly shaving off his famous beard for charity a few years ago, he had his doubts if anyone would show up. After all, Keisel wondered who would pay money to come watch him do something so many do on a daily basis.
"The first time we did it I wasn't sure how well it would be received," said Keisel. "It's a very unique event. People shave every day so to pay money to come watch some mountain man cut his beard off, I wasn't sure how it was going to be received."
Those doubts he had four years ago have long gone out the window, and on Wednesday night Keisel cut the beard off again, hosting the fourth annual Shear Da Beard at a sold out Jergel's Rhythm Grille.
"Steelers Nation has grabbed a hold of it and made it the huge success that it is," said Keisel. "It's been awesome. I just wanted to make it even more fun for them."
An array of individuals took a snip at Keisel's beard, including his wife Sarah and daughter Grace, Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin, coaches Dick LeBeau, Keith Butler, John Mitchell and Randy Fichtner, teammates Heath Miller, Cam Heyward, Ziggy Hood, Kelvin Beachum, Fernando Velasco and Shaun Suisham, and former teammates Aaron Smith and James Harrison who served as a guest auctioneer.
When all was said and done, Keisel admitted it takes time getting used to seeing himself without the beard, even though he left a hint of it, and his kids also take some time getting used to it as well.
"There is definitely an identity crisis going on at first," said Keisel. "Luckily for me it grows back really quickly. For a while I walk by the mirror and I don't know that guy that is looking back at me.
"The other day I was talking to Grace and she was talking about my beard. I told her in a few days I was going to shave off my beard and she told me that's crazy dad, you don't want to do that. That is how they see me; that's how they know me. When it's gone it's almost like there is a stranger around the house."
Keisel has grown the beard the last four years, first starting it in the same fashion as hockey players grow playoff beards in an effort to get the Steelers back in the postseason. It resulted in the Steelers making it to Super Bowl XLV and the legend of 'Da Beard' began.
When that season ended Keisel didn't want to just shave it off and move forward. He wanted to do something to help others, in particular kids. Inspired by the great treatment Aaron Smith's son received during his fight battle against leukemia, he teamed up with Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh at UPMC and Shear Da Beard annually benefits the hospital's Division of Hematology/Oncology, with the money going towards research and programs.
This year's event raised more than $50,000 and Keisel even dedicated a singing/guitar performance of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" to the patients at the hospital.
"It's become such a fun thing to do for the fans," said Keisel, who gets asked often for advice on growing a beard. "I love their reaction. Most importantly I love being able to help out Children's Hospital and cut it off for them.
"I have friendships with doctors, people that work at Children's Hospital and the families that receive care from the hospital. It's become not only special for me, but they look forward to it as well. They have grasped onto the beard's idea. That is special for me."
Keisel is a frequent visitor to the hospital, spending time with the kids and loving it when he walks into the hospital and sees kids wearing their versions of 'Da Beard' that they have made out of yarn, paper, or whatever their imagination comes up with.
"It's amazing. It's hard for me to describe the feeling," said Keisel. "Unless you are in their situation you don't understand what they go through on a daily basis. To be able to see them and talk to them and they are wearing the fake beards, to give them some type of laughter or joy for a little bit is great to see.
"It's become a symbol of hope for them knowing someone out there is fighting for them, pulling for them and wanting them to receive the best care possible. It's a Pittsburgh tradition."