by randy tucker
The rush of reporters surrounding him said more about his character and career than any of his already impressive statistics. Greybull’s Brett Keisel is at a crossroads in his football career.
The 35-year-old former Buff played perhaps his last NFL game against the Cleveland Browns at home in the friendly confines of Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
While most post-game interviews focus on the coach, quarterback or owner, the Pittsburgh press and later the fans, surrounded their favorite, transplanted “Yinzer” number 99 following the Steelers’ 20-7 win over the rival Browns.
The game finished the regular season and the errant toe of Kansas City’s Ryan Succop eliminated the Steelers from the playoffs a few hours later in San Diego.
A nagging case of plantar fasciitis has plagued the 6-6 285-pound defensive end for most of the season but on the final day of the season the speed, power and experience that has made him a mainstay of the Steelers defense was evident once again.
Keisel tallied a quarterback sack, a tackle for loss and forced a fumble in perhaps his final game.
As the final gun sounded Keisel made his way to the center of the field and found Brown’s all-pro lineman Joe Thomas. Thomas and Keisel have battled for years and the mutual respect was evident as both 6-6 giants gave each other a big hug and shook hands following the contest.
As Keisel walked towards the tunnel to exit the stadium a crowd of three thousand fans huddled together just above the exit trying to get his attention.
The big man took the time to shake or slap hands with everyone in reach then departed for the depths of the Heinz Field home locker room.
A professional football locker room following a game is often a zoo of players, coaches, media and organization workers. This afternoon all the attention focused on #99 as only a handful of reporters spoke with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger or other players.
The primary question centered on the Steelers faint playoff hopes at that point and on Keisel’s future. Keisel answered eloquently and stated he would like to return to the Steelers for another season but understood the practicalities of professional football and decisions that had to be made for the good of the team.
As the crowd cleared he was asked if he had any message for the kids back home in Greybull.
Though obviously weary from playing a game on a cold day in the rain and from answering a half-hour of questions he immediately brightened up and said, “Yea, the Buffs are having a great year. They’ve won like seven games in a row. I read the Greybull Standard every week and follow the basketball team in the paper and on the Internet. Tell them to keep up the good work.”
When told the Buffs were the favorite this season in the Northwest Conference, even over traditional power Lovell, Keisel grinned and said, “It’s always a good season if you beat the Bulldogs.”
His humility is compelling and one of the reasons he is a favorite in the working class city of Pittsburgh. Keisel is one player who has never forgotten his roots. Whether those roots are in playing football for the Buffs, in the low post for the same team or running a leg of the 4×100 meter dash and throwing the shot and discus Keisel maintains his roots in Big Horn County.
His career stats speak for themselves with just under 400 tackles, 29 sacks and a single interception that resulted in his only touchdown, a 79-yard return against Tampa Bay at Raymond James Stadium in 2010.
It may be the conclusion of a great career for the defensive end but the Steelers would be wise to find a spot for a man with such incredible rapport with the fans and the Steel City as a whole.
(Randy Tucker is a sportswriter for the Riverton Ranger who was in Pittsburgh for the Steelers’ final game of the season against the Cleveland Browns. He filed this report for the Ranger and shared it the Standard.)