Today we have three different tales about the Pittsburgh Steelers as they prepare to play in next Sunday's Super Bowl:
RAGS TO RICHES
A seventh-round draft pick in 2002 – 7b in fact – Brett Keisel made an early name as a wedge-buster. He's still that. Keisel was the runaway special-teams tackles (23) leader this season, but now this cowboy from Wyoming is becoming quite the pass rusher. And just in time.
"What did I tell you? What did I tell you last year?" Keisel said to the unsuspecting reporter.
"You asked why I signed so early. And I said because I wanted to get a ring. Remember?"
Keisel had signed his restricted free agent tender with time left in the signing period. Since his loss would've required only seventh-round compensation, Keisel was a dandy target for teams that use a 4-3 defense. And since Keisel had exactly zero sacks in three years here, it was possible that this quick 280-pounder had been miscast as a 3-4 end.
But he wanted the ring, and his early signing ended any conjecture. And guess what? As unrestricted free agency approaches, he's become a promising 3-4 end with pass-rushing ability.
Keisel had three sacks this season; two in the next-to-last game against Cleveland. He added two more in the post-season -- both last Sunday in Denver. On the second, Keisel forced a fourth-down fumble that Travis Kirschke recovered with 5:02 remaining and a 27-17 lead. Game over.
"Right before that play, Joey (Porter) kept saying ‘This is the game. This is the game,'" Keisel said. "My first sack was a big third-down play and I barely got him by the shirt. If he'd have gotten outside, it could've been a different game."
But instead, Keisel will be in heavy rotation at the Super Bowl.
"Those plays will be for naught unless we go out there and win this game," he said.
RICHES TO RAGS
Tyrone Carter made 528 tackles at the University of Minnesota. It's the most ever by a Division 1-A defensive back. He won the Thorpe Award as the country's best defensive back and was a two-time All-America. The 5-foot-8 safety was drafted in the fourth round in 2000 by the local Minnesota Vikings. He started nine games, including the NFC Championship game, as a rookie and seven games each of the following two seasons.
But the Vikings went in a new direction. They didn't even offer Carter a restricted free-agent contract, and so he signed a one-year deal with the New York Jets. He stayed there a year, made a career-high 10 starts, and went back to Minnesota in 2004. But he hurt his knee in camp and was out of football. The Steelers picked him up last Oct. 20 and he played in 10 games, mostly special teams, and all very quietly. Or nothing like the hair-flying, in-your-face safety who's averaging 20 defensive snaps per game for the Steelers right now.
Carter is healthy now. Last year, the Steelers nurtured him through the struggle with his knee and now he's a key role player. When opponents bring in three wide receivers, the Steelers lately have gone to what they call their quarter package. They pull out a linebacker and add a third safety, with Troy Polamalu sliding down into the box and Carter taking a deep spot.
"I know what it's like to be at the bottom," Carter said. "People look at you, laugh at you as a laughingstock. And now to be here, it just humbles yourself to think that your hard work really does pay off. No matter if you're at the top or at the bottom, you've still got to keep yourself in order. You can't worry about what people say. You've got to know within yourself you can do it.
"I came from nothin'. Nobody thought I would make it. I'm too short to do this and too short to do that, but look at me: I'm still here and I'm going to play in the Super Bowl."
DARN GLAD TO BE HERE
Grant Bowman spent the 2004 season on the Steelers' practice squad, but was cut after the 2005 camp. He settled into a job in finances six weeks ago with Lehman Brothers in New York. He told his co-workers he used to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but they had to confirm on the internet that this squat man really was once a defensive lineman.
Last Sunday, Bowman cheered for the Steelers to beat the Broncos, and afterward he felt pangs of jealousy.
"I was a jealous as could be about what's going on here, saying man I wish I could be there this year for that," he said. "Little did I know the next day at work I was going to get a nice phone call that was going to make that happen."
The Steelers called Bowman's office Monday morning and left message that they'd like to sign him to their practice squad. He wasn't sure he heard the message right.
"I leaned over to the guy next to me and said: I think the Steelers want to sign me for the Super Bowl," Bowman said. "He said, ‘no way.' I played the message for him. I played it for everybody."
Bowman was given a two-week sabbatical by his thrilled employer.
"It was probably the earliest sabbatical anyone's taken in the history of employment," he said. "But I think I have a pretty good reason."
Bowman played at the University of Michigan, so it's a homecoming of sorts. Reporters from Detroit noted his story. Bowman stood in the middle of the Steelers' busy locker room and couldn't stop smiling.
"It's ridiculous," he said. "I'm still trying to figure out what I'm doing here. Everybody dreams of going to the Super Bowl, but I thought I was done playing and I thought I was just going to watch it from now on. It's just like living a dream."