Friday, April 10, 2015

Troy Polamalu: One of the Greatest Steelers Ever...and a Greater Man Still

“When the time comes to leave, just walk away quietly and don’t make any fuss.” - Banksy, Wall and Piece

Thursday night, after an already full day of activity, yet more news surfaced regarding the Pittsburgh Steelers. News regarding quite possibly the greatest Steelers safety, and one of the best strong safeties to lace up a pair of cleats: Troy Aumua Polamalu has retired. 

Make no mistake, it was time for the former USC graduate to walk away. Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider, who first broke the news of Polamalu's decision, wrote that it came after a good deal of contemplation saying that he "started to debate whether [he] should come back or should [he] play....”, but that family was the main reason. -

And from a logical standpoint, one can truly breathe a sigh of relief as the team can now look firmly to the future, get younger on defense and focus on forming a strong defense again. 

But this isn't about logic or about the X's and O's of a team yet to be assembled. This is purely about emotion, the emotion engendered by a man who was gracious, yet relenting; tempered, yet tenacious; benevolent, yet beguiling and God fearing, yet fearsome and fearless.

Polamalu's legacy isn't simply about numbers - though he retires with 770 career tackles, his 32 interceptions aren't even among the top 150 of NFL players for a career. But every INT, every forced fumble and every fumble recovery he made simply seemed to be just what the Steelers needed at the time. Or to be a spectacular "Did you see that?!" moment. And often, it was both.

As the Steelers’ first-round draft pick in 2003, one for whom they traded up, Polamalu was considered a bust in his rookie season. But it wasn't long before he came to be known for uncanny instincts and an athletic prowess that was coupled with fearful physicality. It was that player who found his way into the hearts of fans and the sleepless nights of foes and offensive coordinators alike, and many of whom are lining up to praise him. - 

Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review once asked arch-rival Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh about Polamalu and Harbaugh said: "You had to account for him at all times. We had times when we didn't account for him, and I was like, 'He is wearing No. 43 and he has hair down to his shoulders. There's no way we should miss the guy, right? Block him. Block him, please.'" -

At his best he was a safety whom you could deploy virtually anywhere on the field - he had the speed to cover deep, as was memorably evidenced by his one-handed interception in 2009 against Kenny Britt and the Tennessee Titans, by his pick six off of Joe Flacco over the middle-left in the 2008 AFC Championship game or the numerous times he perfectly timed the snap count and caught the quarterback or running back before a second or third step could be taken. 

Polamalu will certainly be remembered as a safety who transformed the position in the NFL. My most endearing memory, though, isn't a game-winning INT or a pick six or even a vicious hit he levied against a ball carrier. 

My greatest memory might just be the scene that unfolded after he had made a mistake on a play that could've resulted badly for the Steelers. Troy recognized his mistake and walked off the field with his head down and headed straight for his defensive coordinator - "Coach Dad" - Dick LeBeau. 

LeBeau hugged him while taking his helmeted head in hand and consoled him. Troy's approach and demeanor was that of a child in his father's embrace. Troy just stood there listening to Coach Dad's sage words. 

The relatively short time the camera captured the two seemed more like several minutes - time wrapped its heavy hands around each second and brought us all into that embrace with them because we had all already been in that position. 

That's who Troy was. He was a humble, soft-spoken, everyday man whom you could be proud to let your sons emulate or to let your daughters swoon over. He was the player whose jersey you were never ashamed to wear. He was the player you knew one day you'd see giving a dignified and deflective Hall of Fame speech. 

One day he'll do just that. Until then, though, you won't hear from him. He won't seek out fanfare or a self-aggrandizing press conference. He'll relax with his family until it's time for his luxurious and curly locks to adorn his bronzed bust in Canton. 

That's the man he is. He knew it was time to leave, and so he just walked away quietly and didn't make any fuss.