From Snow to Super Bowl

January 24, 2009

From Kurt Kragthorpe's article in The Salt Lake Tribune, entitled-From Snow to Super Bowl:

Fred Taukei'aho is happily torn about Super Bowl XLIII.

Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel once was his Snow College teammate and Keisel's father and brother are among his regular lunchtime customers.

Arizona Cardinals offensive Deuce Lutui also played for Snow and grew so close to the adviser of the school's Polynesian Club that he still addresses her as "Mom" -- just as Fred's wife does.

No wonder Taukei'aho said, "I don't know who to root for."

There could be only one solution: Co-Burgers of the Week.

In Fred's Sports Grill & Drive Thru on Main Street in Manti, the rival linemen in next Sunday's game have equal billing these days. Their signed, framed jerseys are displayed together on the wall just inside the door. The menu posted above the counter highlights the Deuce Burger and the Diesel Burger, each being promoted for $4.89 in advance of the Super Bowl.

Whether deciding which massive, lineman-inspired sandwich to order or which team to cheer for in the big game, the residents of central Utah's Sanpete County figure they will win either way with two ex-Badgers on the field.

"The community's really buzzing," said Snow coach Steve Coburn. "There are a lot of fun conversations going around."

The attachment to football success is a nice boost for the local folks, amid layoffs by the county's biggest employer, Moroni Feed Co., and cutbacks at the college. This past season, Manti High reached the Class 2A state championship game and Snow played for the junior college national title. Each lost in heartbreaking fashion, but now Snow is guaranteed a Super Bowl champion.

Keisel, who completed his college career at BYU and won Super Bowl XL with the Steelers, probably has the bigger following, considering his father was one of 14 children who were born to George and Elfia Keisel in Manti and raised in nearby Ephraim. Three generations of Keisels still live in the area. Brett's parents moved to Fairview in 2000, after his high school days in Wyoming. Lutui attended Snow in 2003 before moving on to USC. In Ephraim, the 350-pounder made a memorable impact by dancing in the Poly Club's annual luau, effortlessly dominating opponents and blending in beautifully as "the friendliest guy on the team," said former receiver Nate Meikle.

Lutui (No. 76) is Arizona's right guard and Keisel (No. 99) is Pittsburgh's right end, so they will not directly collide. Yet the basic issue of Super Bowl XLIII is whether Lutui and the Cardinals' offensive line can protect quarterback Kurt Warner and score against Keisel and the NFL's No. 1 defense.

Lane Keisel is just glad his son's pursuits of elusive targets are more fruitful than his own lately. A retired fire fighter, Lane spends his days as a trapper in the Manti-La Sal Mountains, seeking foxes, coyotes and bobcats. "Not a good year for trapping," he said.

Thanks to the Cardinals' unlikely rise through the playoffs, it is a great month for the specialty at Fred's, the sandwich that Lutui himself helped create: two quarter-pound beef patties, topped with bacon, ham and a boneless barbecued rib. "The closer we get to the Super Bowl, the more Deuce Burgers we sell," said Angie Taukei'aho, Fred's wife and co-owner.

The Diesel Burger, in honor of Keisel's nickname in Pittsburgh, was recently added to the menu. It features beef, pastrami, swiss cheese, mushrooms and tomato. Even after his morning in the mountains, Lane Keisel settled for a special-ordered junior version of the Diesel. Indeed, for the average person, these burgers are a lot to bite off.

So is an NFL career. Lutui originally signed with Utah but did not qualify academically, and Keisel needed academic improvement in the middle of his BYU career. For each, Ephraim seemed like a detour at the time, but a year at Snow helped get them where they are now, and they know it. "They've never forgotten their roots," said Claudia Olsen, Snow's Student Support Services office manager and Polynesian Club adviser.

"I'm not just saying this because [Coburn] is here, but Snow was the best thing that happened to Brett," Keisel's father said.

So as he recruits the next generation of Badgers, Coburn is not exactly marketing Super Bowl access, but he's not dismissing the possibility, either.

"We talk about it all the time: This is a place where you can take advantage of your opportunity," he said, "and those guys did that."