The Shutdown Corner Interview: Troy Polamalu and Brett Keisel talk about hair, air guitar, and what comes after football
Pittsburgh Steelers veteran defenders Troy Polamalu and Brett Keisel are football players, but they are also Renaissance men. And they are also very smart individuals, with dueling passions for higher education and air guitar excellence.
To that end, both players have teamed up to form the Troy Polamalu School of Deeper Learning, ostensibly based on Emil Faber’s well-known statement: “Knowledge is Good.” Polamalu is the school’s Founder & University President, while Keisel is the Dean of Students, and Professor of Facial Hair. The two Steelers have teamed up with Head & Shoulders for this enterprise, and before you dismiss this as yet another product pitch, keep in mind that the University of Pittsburgh (yes, the real one) recently welcomed Polamalu as a guest lecturer to discuss his knowledge of hair care and other things.
We recently had the opportunity to discuss hair care and these other things with Polamalu and Keisel, discovering in the process that these guys take their air guitar VERY seriously.
As a long-time proponent of air guitar excellence myself, I was very impressed with your efforts. The emotive meanderings of your performances were singularly striking.
Keisel: Yeah, man — we’re air guitar professionals. Notice how we express ourselves with our facial expressions, and our impressive fingerings. It was a lot of fun.
Brett, you were a bit more dignified. Troy had the Carlos Santana “scrunchy-face” look down, though.
Polamalu: We actually placed first and second in the Air Guitar Championships in Germany last year. We were on YouTube, but they took the videos down because we were too awesome.
Well, let’s talk about the Troy Polamalu School of Deeper Learning. Troy, we know that you’re a deep guy, but how did this get started?
TP: This is part of a breakout with Head & Shoulders, and we’ve done some pretty iconic things with the world record for the hair insurance, and the wax figure. But this year, we’ve decided to out-do the University of Phoenix and DeVry, with our online university for grooming. Brett is the Dean of Students, and obviously the Professor of Facial Hair, and Rob Riggle is a guest professor.
Now … for guys who are a bit follicle-challenged like myself, what are your suggestions? Can I even get in if I’m losing it up there?
TP: Oh, well … I’m sorry. Perhaps you should work on the facial hair.
BK: Yes. Grow the facial hair to compensate.
I’m working on that, believe me. Let’s get to the football stuff. Troy, you’ve been in and out of the game the last few years with injuries. And the Steelers’ defense is still good, obviously, but there’s been a lot of talk about the guys behind the guys — the younger players groomed to take over certain important positions in time. You have, in my opinion, the greatest defensive coordinator in NFL history in Dick LeBeau, but what are your impressions of the younger guys, and how they’re coming along? It’s a very complex defense, and players don’t always get it right away.
TP: I think that’s one of the great things about the Pittsburgh Steelers — we’re not a big free-agent team. We build guys up through our system to have a better understanding of our defense. Guys who are starting for the first time, like Ziggy Hood and Keenan Lewis, are gaining more experience. The great thing about our defense is that we’ve been playing it for such a long time, we understand how it’s starting to be attacked. If you were to put any of us in a Tampa-2 system, it would be hard, because you get all those different plays and looks. But the more experience our younger guys get, the better our defense will be.
What is it about Coach LeBeau that allows him to bring up young players in his defense and have them play at such a high level? Many coaches can teach concepts well, but having it happen on the field is another matter.
BK: For me, it’s the type of person he is. Every morning when he comes in to meet with us in our defensive meeting room, he says, ‘Good morning, men — it’s a great day to be alive.’ He truly believes that, and he loves his job. He’s been coaching and playing in the NFL for over 50 years, so that’s automatic respect right there. The way he carries himself and the way he coaches — he’s not a yell-and-scream type guy. He’ll pull you aside and say, ‘This is what I feel you need to do better,’ or ‘This is what you should have done on this play.’ It’s really been a blessing for both of us to be able to learn from him — not just about playing football, but to be a good and positive citizen.
There are times when any defense slips, no matter how good it is, and you have to pull it back up. How much do you, as veterans and leaders, put it on yourselves without anyone else telling you, to be that voice when it’s needed?
TP: We’ve always put a lot of pressure on ourselves to win games since I’ve been a part of this organization. Our offense has been about controlling the clock and not turning the ball over, and they’ve done that this year. We just haven’t done well at situational things [on defense] — third downs, the red zone, forcing field goals, preventing big splash plays. We have 11 more games to go, and hopefully, we can get this turned around.
Troy, given your recent injury history — I know players don’t necessarily think about this when they’re playing, but do you think about the end of your NFL careers and what might come after? You’re both smart guys, and you’re obviously media-savvy. Have you given much thought to what might come next?
TP: For me, to be brutally honest, I’ve always thought about the end. Even from my rookie year. This game gives you such tremendous respect, you never know when the last play’s going to be. Ray Lewis was the latest example — he had his season taken away from him with that triceps injury. This is such a physical game and there are so many injuries, I’ve always thought about it. You have appreciate every snap you’re blessed with out on the field.
Have you thought about what you might like to do when football is over?
BK: Yeah, I’ve thought about it. I think I’d like to stay in football somehow, but I feel like when I’m done, I’ll need to get away from it for a little while. This is my 11th year, and I can start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But I really and truly enjoy coming to work — we have a great group of guys and they make it fun. It’s been a blessing to be a part of it, and to win Super Bowls, but I try to keep the focus on playing while it’s here. Like Troy says, you never know when it’s going to be gone.
TP: For myself, the first thing I would do is go back to Eastern Europe and defend my Air Guitar Championship.
You could do that in the offseason. You wouldn’t have to retire to maintain and enhance your air guitar dominance.
TP: But it does take a lot of time. People think that it’s just an off-season thing, but I spend a lot of nights practicing.
Well, I certainly don’t want to discount the work that goes into it. It’s like football – you have to respect the work.
TP: I’m a method actor. I like to get in character and stay in character for a long time.
What is your favorite music when you’re getting in character?
TP: Flamenco, of course.
Now, you’re not dancing with this, are you? Because that might be a little weird.
TP: No, I leave the dancing to Hines Ward.