When I awoke early this morning to the news of Troy Polamalu’s announcement that he would be retiring after 12 incredible years as a Pittsburgh Steeler, my immediate reaction was the Steelers did not lose a great player, they were losing an remarkable man.
I want to be careful and make myself clear; when you think about the greatest to ever play the position of safety in NFL history, Polamalu is one of a handful of players that are up for debate. At his peak, it’s fair to say no safety ever played the position better, and certainly no safety changed how we define their role more than the great Polamalu.
Injuries and Father Time eventually caught up with Polamalu. He was no longer the unstoppable force on the field Steeler fans were so blessed to embrace as one of their own. It was clear as day this past season, the speed and “suddenness” that had defined Polamalu as a player were gone. It was hard to watch, and even harder to accept. After all, how many players to wear the black and gold have been more beloved?
That’s why I want to talk about Troy the man.
There are no hideous domestic violence cases to rehash. No drunken incidents at a club at three in the morning. No whispers of treating people poorly when the “cameras are not on.” No negative words spoken of teammates or coaches. No quitting on them either.
In fact, when Polamalu discussed retirement, it was all about his family and his faith. Polamalu went out of his way to give praise to his wife Theodora, to talk about the importance of spending time with his two young sons, Paisios and Ephram. There were no subtle jabs at the organization he loves, the one he admitted was the only one he could ever play for.
Imagine that. A player who deflects praise away from himself and talks about all the reasons he has been able to be successful. No bitterness, only humility and raising those around him up.
This should surprise no one. That’s Troy Polamalu, a man who once paid for everyone’s meal at a restaurant simply because he wanted to thank them for respecting their family time when they were allowed to eat their meal in peace. This did not make the papers or national headlines. Not that Polamalu was looking for headlines or notoriety.
Then there are the countless number of children he has befriended over the years. Many of them facing the unspeakable challenges of rare forms of cancer, often with a devastating prognosis. Polamalu embraced the opportunities to brighten the lives of these children, and did much more than make a token appearance and then disappear. He, more often than not, became their close friend, remaining a part of their lives throughout their battle to beat their illnesses.
Though many of these children lost the battle, their way too short lives were made brighter thanks to the selfless gestures of Polamalu.
You may not have heard about those things though. Sadly it seems we only hear about the negatives.
When you consider the career of Polamalu, it’s easy to simply reflect on some of the memorable plays during his time with the Steelers. Who can forget his gravity defying interception against the Chargers? How about when he jumped over the pile to stop Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco on a critical 4th-and-1 play? Or, arguably the greatest of the all, remember when Polamalu intercepted Flacco in the 2008 AFC title game to help propel the Steelers to their sixth Super Bowl title?
That was a moment. What’s funny is the thing that stands out to me about that play was him talking afterward about his newborn son and how he immediately thought of him as he pointed up into the stands as to say; “that was for you.”
Definitive Troy Polamalu. Always deflecting praise and humbly giving it to others, with grace, with integrity, with character. That’s what I am going to miss more than anything else.