Keisel officially makes it ‘Sixburgh’

February 13, 2009

Brett Keisel and the Pittsburgh Steelers are once again the toast of the National Football League, basking in the glow of the franchise’s record-setting sixth Super Bowl title which they earned with their 27-23 win over Arizona Sunday night in Tampa, Fla.

Not content to simply be an eyewitness to history, Keisel will go down in the record books as the player who made it a certainty. His recovery of a Kurt Warner fumble near midfield with just a few ticks on the clock clinched the win for Pittsburgh.

The Greybull native and son of Lane and Connie Keisel ranked among the team leaders in tackles, with four solos and one assisted stop, and also had a quarterback hurry to go along with his fumble recovery.

No. 99 did his hometown proud.

By early Tuesday afternoon, Keisel’s whirlwind journey was over. He was back at home, heading for a farm to let his dogs work off some steam and reflect, in solitude, on the events of the past week.

Those memories extend far beyond the game. By his side all week were wife Sarah and their young son Jake, as well as members of Brett and Sarah’s immediate families. Steve and Pat Johnson, who still reside in Greybull, were among those in Tampa for the big game.

Keisel’s said he and his mates were confident in the lead-up to the big game. One highlight for him came in Saturday morning’s final walk-through. Normally closed to everyone but team members, the session was opened to a limited number of family members by decree of Coach Mike Tomlin. Brett took his dad and brother, which gave them an opportunity to be with the team on the cusp of its history-making win.

It was a change of policy from the one in place during Keisel’s first trip to the Super Bowl, when the team was coached by Bill Cowher. It’s an example, Keisel said, of how different the two coaches are — and yet, both ended up with Super Bowl wins.

When asked for a play-by-play of his day, Keisel said coming out of the tunnel and hearing the roar of the crowd was “amazing,” that he was “blown away” by Jennifer Hudson’s singing of the National Anthem — “She didn’t win American Idol…you’ve gotta be kidding me,” he laughed — and by his fast start to the game.

Within the first few Arizona series, Keisel’s name had been mentioned several times, whether for tackles or disruptions of the Arizona offense.

The game itself came down to big plays, and for the Steelers, none of them were any bigger than James Harrison’s interception and 100-yard return of a Kurt Warner pass right before halftime. The play represented a 14-point swing, giving the Steelers a 10-point halftime lead when it looked as though they might go into the locker room trailing by four.

“I was doing my part,” said Keisel, of his blocking on Harrison’s return. “Everyone reacted the same way … no hesitation on anyone’s part. Everyone turned and tried to help. It may have been the greatest defensive play in football history … and I got to be a part of it.”

The outcome was very much in doubt, though, in the fourth quarter. Trailing 20-7, the Cardinals scored a touchdown and added a safety to draw to within four, 20-16. Moments later, Larry Fitzgerald snared a Warner pass and split the Steeler defense for a touchdown that put the Cardinals in the lead for the first time, 23-20.

With just over three minutes to play, the Steelers turned to their 26-year-old signal caller, Ben Roethlisberger, to lead them to victory. And lead him he did, directing a drive that ended when Santonio Holmes gathered in one of his passes and dragged his feet in the corner of the end zone. Needing a touchdown and having only seconds to come up with it, the Cardinals made it only as far as midfield, where Keisel was the man on the spot to recover the fumble that sealed the win.

“They hit some big plays on us,” said Keisel of Arizona’s comeback. “That’s why this game is so special — because on any team can win on any given Sunday.” As he and his teammates walked to the sidelines after surrendering Arizona’s go-ahead touchdown, Keisel said he remembers thinking, “OK, we just have to believe. Believe and finish strong. That’s what all the great teams do … and it’s what we did.”

One of the last glimpses of game action saw Keisel walking off the field, carrying the football that he recovered. Yes, he was allowed to keep it. It will be tucked away, perhaps to be given to his son one day.

“It was great, being able to fall on that ball on the last play of the Super Bowl,” he said. “It’s just another piece that I’ll have to remember this forever. It feels indescribable. I’m still completely in awe of the whole deal.”

When asked to compare the two Super Bowls, Keisel paused.

“They were so different,” he began. “They were different periods in my life. The first one, I was a special teams player who came in only situationaly. But this one was different — maybe because of my son, the greatest joy in my life. It’s something I can remember forever, being able to go through this whole experience with him and Sarah. It just makes me hungry for more.”

More than 300,000 Steeler fans clad in black and gold lined the streets of Pittsburgh to welcome their team home on Tuesday morning. Keisel was of course right in the center of it all, soaking it all up.

“Steeler Nation is amazing,” he said. “No matter what, they always support us.”

As he headed for the hills with his dogs, Keisel admitted that he was still sore, and looking forward to a month or so of rest and relaxation before resuming training for the 2009-10 season. He has one year remaining on a three-year pact he signed with the Steelers, and knows that he must continue to improve. Before training camp opens, though, he’ll be back in Greybull. “Absolutely, I’m going back there,” he said. “I know where I’m from…I know where my wife’s from…and even though we’re here (in Pennsylvania) now, my son’s from there too. It’s a very special place — and we wouldn’t be where we are today without Greybull.”

With two Super Bowl rings, where he is, is in elite company. “Guess you could say I’m in a class with John Elway,” he chuckled.