Troy Polamalu is a different type of football player. He breaks almost every mold and stereotype stamped onto the forehead of every player who has ever graced the National Football League.
While some bang on their chest and point to the name on the back of their jerseys, Polamalu would pray and do the sign of the cross after every play.
When players would walk into Heinz Field for a big Pittsburgh Steelers game in big coats, hats and dressed to impress, Polamalu would have casual clothes, as if he were going to a friend’s house for dinner.
Some players feared taking risks, too afraid of making a mistake. Polamalu thrived on instinct, and using his intelligence and intellect to give him a physical, and mental, advantage over the opponent.
He is a first ballot Hall of Famer for a reason, but when it was announced Polamalu would also be inducted into the Steelers Hall of Honor in 2020, he felt the need to write a letter, or thank you of sorts, to acknowledge what it meant to him to be a member of the Steelers.
Instead of trying to dress it up, let Polamalu’s words do all the talking...
This is from Polamalu’s verified Facebook page, and it is worth every second to read it:
“A Pittsburgh Steeler
People find it hard to believe that the first NFL game I actually watched, was the first NFL game I played in. I was not a fan so much of the fandom that surrounds the game, the NFL, college football, or football in general. I truly enjoyed playing the game. I enjoyed practicing more than playing on Sundays. Practices reminded me of turkey bowl games against friends in elementary. They reminded me of playing one on one tackle football against my older brother Kaio on our lawn in Southern California. He would turn on the sprinklers to resemble muddy Soldier Field, me being Walter Payton, jumping over him, the opposing defense. I would emulate Sweetness jumping over the goal line and my brother would launch me even further into the air reaching heights even coach Lebeau wouldn’t approve. Practices for me at St Vincent and Southside were similar, fun and stress free.
When first accepting the call from 412 area code, my excitement lead me to the auto mall hoping to purchase a Range Rover. My agent, Marvin Demoff, explained that when you go to Pittsburgh, you don’t show up in a BMW, you show up in a pick up truck.
I’ll further explain my ignorance when one of my best friends Aaron had to explain to me that I wasn’t playing at Three Rivers stadium but Heinz Field, that Jerome Bettis is a future HOFer and to watch out for Hines Ward who is the baddest man in the NFL. Which I found out at our first full padded practice when I tried to sneak a shot at him on a run play, only for Hines to snatch me up when my legs loosened while giving his classic grin and saying, “I’m not like everyone else”, no doubt!
These guys and many other were not teammates to me, truly brothers. When I had a night out with the guys, like the Secret Service, I was so protected, nobody would dare approach me. I was everyone’s little brother, protected in every way.
My first encounter with my roommate and brother Ike has been covered, he explains best. Let’s just say, as a pro athlete, who expected presidential suite accommodations, didn’t expect to walk into a hotel room with him doing butt naked sit ups in a small twin bed room. The first of many crazy and amazing memories we have together. We were drafted and ended our careers together. These meager accommodations were a sign of what to expect of the culture and environment we would have for our next 12 years together.
I was very blessed to have a locker next to Jerome Bettis until he retired. I’m sure by design. I doubt anyone could ask for a better person to “school me to the game” than Jerome. His life experience and knowledge of the game was a language I was accustomed to from my older brothers, cousins and uncles.
Mike Logan, the starting safety my rookie year that many would predict I would replace, of course being a first round draft pick, shared his full knowledge of the game. He showed a level of humility I struggled to emulate throughout my career. Likewise, many other teammates having negative impact on their personal future would do the same for incoming players.
Joey Porter my early years, was without a doubt our fearless leader. Fearless and authentic in every way. I was aligned next to him when an opponent talked trash to him only for Joey to see this same person at a craps table in Las Vegas to confront and fight him. In Las Vegas, at a craps table! It reminds me of Joe Greene’s no nonsense attitude when confronted. It was my thought process when an opponent stood over me in a game we were losing thinking, “I’ll lose all the Steelers legends respect if they see me not do anything when a rival opponent stands over me.” I was not angry in any way, I was just making sure I earned my place to eternally represent the black and gold. Something any great Steeler would never allow without appropriate retaliation. After Joey, James Farrior would emulate the Jack Ham’s and Lambert’s. The quiet no nonsense professional. James would be our ring leader in all night bourré games, off season get togethers, and the calm during 2 minute defense.
My rookie year was a bust. I couldn’t make a play of any significance. I recall reading the newspaper early in the season calling me a first round bust. I vowed not to read any sports column in the future. Ryan Clark challenged current team captain Cam Heyward in a similar way. Cam, without a doubt has carried on our Steeler legacy since. During the last game of our my rookie season, Mr. Dan Rooney approached me and said, “Don’t pay any attention to what their saying about you, I think your doing fine.” My reaction was, “Mr. Rooney, they’re still talking bad about me.” Hahaha. Papa Rooney said to me after my last game before retirement something similar.
Joe Greene is without a doubt the greatest player in NFL history. As the saying goes, the best player, on the best team, is the MVP. Joe Greene is the best player, from the most successful organization in NFL history. He was apart of every Super Bowl the Steelers have ever won, as a player and front office exec. When scouting future Steelers the scouting department was excited by a certain prospect. However when Joe Greene scouted him, he was would not approve because his reaction when an opponent slapped this prospect in the face. Times have changed, however, as coach Tomlin often says, the standard is the standard.
Coach Cowher would teach us to embrace misery. Especially from uncontrollable environmental factors. More often it was the humid summers and cold winters. Weather would never be a factor. We found joy when teams forced us to wear black early in the season hoping the heat would fatigue us. We found joy on sloppy muddy fields in the fall and especially with below 0 bone chilling wind in late winter. We lived in it, practiced in it, and reawakened our childhood passions on game days in it.
This legacy is passed down in the locker room, from Joe Greene’s and now to the Cam Heyward’s and TJ Watt’s. To a band of brothers that are closely tied to things deeper than money, business, and winning.
To be a Steeler is to consider others before you consider yourself. To protect your brother, even from himself, to give support, even at your expense, when wearing black and gold suit of armor, make sure nobody desecrates or disrespects it, most importantly we ourselves don’t dishonor it. One of the best sayings I’ve ever heard from previous legends who have donned the black and gold is, “You could have played with us.”
What I truly appreciate about the Steeler way is that at its core, it’s the success of a family. The core of our success is culture based on essential virtues any person respects and honors. Humility, Passion, Resilience and Legacy.
When I showed up to my first day in my brand new Range Rover because I was a Trojan from LA before I became a Steeler, I never thought Pittsburgh would be my home. In fact I called my agent Marvin Demoff during my predraft visit to Pittsburgh on a dreary cold and rainy night asking to make sure I never go back. Now, I’m blessed to be in the Hall of Honor, confirmation that enduring the struggles to emulate players before me is worthwhile. Thank yinz.