PITTSBURGH – Brett Keisel has lost games on his birthday before, and that’s one of the reasons the win last Sunday, on his 32nd birthday, was so special.
“It was incredible, said Keisel. “The guys all sang happy birthday to me in the locker room after the game. Everyone sang but Aaron.”
“I refuse to sing Happy Birthday for him,” joked Aaron Smith as he walked past Keisel and his interviewer.
“But, no, it was a birthday I’ll never forget,” Keisel said.
Keisel, of course, played a prominent role in the Steelers’ 19-11 manhandling of the Tennessee Titans. He helped hold 2,000-yard runner Chris Johnson to 34 yards rushing, and also sacked Kerry Collins in the fourth quarter and forced a fumble on the play.
The team plane returned to Pittsburgh from the one o’clock game in plenty of time for Keisel to get home and open presents with his wife Sarah and two-year-old son Jacob.
“Having my son help me blow out the candles, there’s not much that can top that,” Keisel said. “The whole day was just perfect.”
The whole day was far from that in 2004. The Steelers celebrated Keisel’s birthday in Baltimore that year with a 30-13 loss.
Of course, they didn’t lose again until the AFC Championship game, and no one would be surprised to see the Steelers playing that deep into the post-season six years later.
Playing without suspended quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers are being led by a defense that might be more talented than the championship defenses of the 2005 and 2008 seasons.
Of course, none of the veterans will consider making any comparisons after only two games.
“That’s the mindset we have to have around here,” Keisel said. “We don’t want to pat ourselves on the back. We know the caliber of defense we have in here, regardless of what anyone outside this locker room says. We’re going to come to work every week and prepare to be the best defense in the league. As long as we can stick with that mindset, and not get too high or too low, we should finish strong.”
Keisel said the defense was motivated by the trash-talking they heard from the Titans two years ago when the Steelers lost in Nashville.
Keisel was asked why the Steelers don’t talk and showboat after big defensive plays, per the fashion of the day.
“I think it’s LeBeau,” he said of defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. “It comes down from the leadership of coach LeBeau and what he expects from us and what he wants us to look like out there. No one wants to let that man down. No one wants to act like they’re more important than the rest of us. I think it stems from him and the leadership he brings to us. We’re lucky to have a guy like him in front of our meeting room every day.”