Brett Keisel's time here running out

by Ed Bouchette

End of career looms

Maybe something could keep Brett Keisel from playing what looks to be his final two games in a Steelers uniform.

Something such as being swallowed by a sinkhole or hit by a train might derail him. He is determined it won't be the plantar fasciitis that has kept him sidelined for all but seven snaps of the past five games.

Keisel, 35, wants to pull on his uniform and join his teammates for their final two games of the 2013 season, what may be the final two of his storybook 12-year career with the Steelers.

"I was very eager, especially this being my last year on my contract," Keisel said after completing his second practice this week. "I wanted to go down fighting with my teammates, and, whatever happens, I wanted to be out there playing with them and do my job. I'm here to work and play games, and that's what I want to do."

He knows the drill because he has seen other teammates follow it over the previous two years, players of high stature and longevity such as linebacker James Farrior, wide receiver Hines Ward and his old defensive linemates Casey Hampton, Aaron Smith and Chris Hoke.

The team that won two Super Bowl titles and three AFC championships in a six-year span is nearly gone. Others will soon follow, if not this year then next -- players from all three Super Bowls, cornerback Ike Taylor and safety Troy Polamalu. Soon, only quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will be left.

Keisel believes he could play in 2014, but understands the Steelers might not want him back. After all, they released all those teammates except for Hoke, who retired.

"That's very possible. That's the nature of the business we're in, everyone's getting younger. Whatever happens, I'm grateful for my time that I've been here. I'm grateful for the success we've had on this team."

"But I want us to go out and finish this thing strong, win these last two games and go out on a positive note."

He's not sure he would play elsewhere if given a chance and unwanted by the Steelers. He also does not want to think about either at the moment.

"I bleed black and gold, everyone knows that," said Keisel, a native of Wyoming who has made his year-round home in Pittsburgh with his wife and three children. "I'm a Yinzer. I love this city. I plan on raising my family here. It's one of those things that it'll be a tough decision to be made when it's there."

Keisel made the Steelers as a seventh-round draft pick in 2002 from Brigham Young, by excelling on special teams as a rookie. He waited four years (one on injured reserve, 2003) before becoming a starter. Once a starter, he never budged for eight years and made one Pro Bowl for the 2010 season, one in which he returned an interception 79 yards for a touchdown in a 38-13 victory at Tampa Bay.

At right end, where he started 108 of the 138 games he played, he often led the Steelers in quarterback pressures -- such as in 2012 when he had 40 -- even though the 3-4 defense is not designed for ends to get to the quarterback. How he would love to sack a quarterback one more time.

Thursday after practice, he stood erect at his locker in full uniform No. 99, Da Beard that has made more than $100,000 for Children's Hospital in full late-season growth and ready to be sheared for a fourth time in the coming months.

"I love being a Steeler," Keisel said as he looked around at his teammates pouring into his home away from home the past 12 years. "I love being a part of this locker room. It's been awesome. I hope we can keep it going."

He acknowledged it was difficult for him to answer the questions being asked because, "You hate thinking about the end."

"You hate thinking about not being able to do it anymore. But everyone, especially if you're an older guy, you understand the business. You can't say that no one ever thinks about it. I have a lot of great memories and build new, fond memories every day, and that's what's been the best part."

He has talked with some of the above former teammates about what it's like, the process of knowing when it's over.

Smith stood in the same locker room two years ago and said he could never play for another team. Ward talked about playing elsewhere, but never did. Hampton joked about the end coming. Farrior left quietly. Hoke held a news conference to announce his retirement. Ward returned months after the Steelers released him to announce his retirement as a Steelers player.

"I've talked to those guys a lot about it," Keisel said. "It's always an adjustment when you've been playing this game for as long as we have and it's not there anymore. Having those guys as mentors and as friends has helped throughout the whole process. Even them not being here, I talked to them about that. They're great friends, someone I'll always lean on for advice."

He has two more games, including the finale at home, provided his foot holds up. If there is any football justice, it will.