Gar Bercury —
OK, i’ll be the one to say it, Troy Polamalu is not a first-ballot Hall of Famer. I understand that saying this means I am risking life and limb with many of our loyal readers, but it is still the truth.
I want to be clear, I do believe Polamalu will eventually get a bust in Canton, it just won’t happen in his first year of eligibility. There are different reasons why it won’t happen, some can be attributed to Polamalu’s career as a whole. Some of it is due to a simple numbers game that will be very difficult for Polamalu to overcome.
The list of the 72 first-ballot inductees is a who’s-who of the greatest players to ever to play in the NFL; Jim Brown, Joe Montana, Dick Butkus, Mel Blount, Bruce Smith, Jerry Rice, Walter Payton, Tony Dorsett and Lawrence Taylor among the names. These are players who were exceptional and dominating over the span of their careers.
When you consider that alone, its very hard for anyone who looks at the career of Polamalu and believe he’s that caliber of player. Hall of Fame? Yes. Resume on par with some of the names above? No way.
Another reason I feel strongly it won’t happen is taking special teams out of the equation as no position has fewer players in the Hall of Fame than Safety. Only seven full-time safeties have gained entry into the Hall, ever. Keep in mind, there have been 287 players or coaches inducted, and only seven of them have been full time safeties. The last player to play his entire career at safety to gain entry into the hall was Paul Krause, way back in 1998.
To give you an idea of how difficult it is for safeties when it comes to the Hall of Fame, Krause intercepted 81 passes, an NFL record that still stands today. Yet Krause was not even close to a first-ballot Hall of Famer. In fact, for whatever reasons, Krause was forced to wait well over a decade after becoming eligible to finally get the nod.
Krause was lucky. A lot of really outstanding safeties simply can’t find their way to the HOF, including the Steelers own Donnie Shell, the Seahawks Kenny Easley, the Cowboys Cliff Harris, and the Broncos Steve Atwater.
That’s not to say that the position will not get their fair share of consideration in the coming years. The Eagles Brian Dawkins and the Ravens Ed Reed likely will join Polamalu in the Hall in the future. The position has become more important in a lot of people’s eyes, but it seems that especially for Polamalu, the lack of interceptions and inability to play full seasons will also impact his ability to get into the HOF immediately.
Fair or not, Polamalu will be penalized for his inability to stay healthy over the course of his career. After not making a start during his rookie year in 2003, Polamalu has missed 30 games over the past 10 seasons. That’s a lot of games. The nagging injuries have been a major issue in recent years in particular, and this will be a point of contention among HOF voters.
Add the fact that as incredible a player as Polamalu has been, his 31 career interceptions rank him 166th all time. Stats unfortunately matter to HOF voters, and this is going to be a point of contention when Polamalu’s career is over.
There is no question in my mind Troy Polamalu will be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but its going to take a little bit of time. It might not be fair, but I just don’t see him getting in without a little bit of a wait.
Jeff Snedden —
The NFL Hall of Fame has become something of an enigma to Steelers fans over the past few years, with RB Jerome Bettis failing to be inducted in four tries, despite being universally considered one of the top 10 backs of all time. Some Steelers fans have gone as far as to accuse the NFL of having a bias against inducting any more Steelers into the Hall. While that may be a bit on the paranoid side, it is hard to figure why Bettis is still on the outside after retiring as the sixth-leading rusher in NFL history.
Steelers fans won’t have to worry about the same fate for SS Troy Polamalu when he decides to hang up his cleats. Polamalu is bar none one of the best safeties to ever play the game, and he has the resume to back it up. An eight-time Pro Bowler, the 2010 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, a member of the NFL’s 2000s All-Decade Team, a member of the Steelers All-Time Team and a two-time Super Bowl champion — Polamalu has essentially done it all in the NFL. More than that, he has accomplished all of those things while being a genuine role model and leader. Few players are more universally respected across the league than Troy Polamalu.
Statistically, Polamalu has had a career for the ages. It’s hard to argue with 32 career interceptions, 539 career tackles and five defensive touchdowns. While those numbers alone should guarantee his first-ballot entry, the manner in which he has achieved them is what truly sets him apart. Who could ever forget Polamalu sealing the 2008 AFC Championship Game with an amazing interception of Baltimore QB Joe Flacco and then taking it 40 yards for a touchdown, setting off the greatest celebration in Heinz Field history? Has any player in history ever made a more exciting defensive play than Polamalu timing his jump over the entire offensive line to stop a play in the backfield – not once, but THREE times in his career? Is there a more impressive interception than the one-handed, gravity-questioning, dive and scoop of a ball mere inches off the ground against the San Diego Chargers in 2008? These plays are merely the superhuman highlights of an 11-year career that is still going strong. While Polamalu may have lost a step through numerous injuries in his career, he showed in 2013 that he still has plenty left in the tank.
When NFL fans think of the greatest safeties in league history, names like Ronnie Lott, Donnie Shell, Jack Tatum, Steve Atwater and Ed Reed come to mind. Along with those – on every list – is No. 43 for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He has been the heart and soul of the Pittsburgh defense for over a decade, playing with heart and passion, and always coming up the biggest in the most important situations. He has done so with class and integrity that has made him a poster-boy for the good in a league where so many are bad. On a team that has been defined by its defense on the way to three Super Bowl appearances and two Lombardi trophies, Polamalu has always been the quiet assassin that makes the Steelers defense tick. When the time comes for his enshrinement in Canton, voters won’t need more than one opportunity to induct the greatest defensive player of his generation. For Steelers fans, the wait to see “The Bus” and probably Hines Ward standing on that podium may go on longer than deserved – but you can make your hotel reservations now to see a bronze bust of the most famous hair in Steelers history get unveiled on a hot summer night in Ohio.