When Steelers safety Troy Polamalu retired following the 2014 season, the only question about his football immortality was if he would be a first-ballot Hall of Famer or not?
That question was answered early last year when Polamalu was inducted in his very try as a member of the Class of 2020. Polamalu had to wait an extra summer to get enshrined thanks to the Coronavirus pandemic, but he’ll have his day this August when his old boss, legendary defensive guru, Dick LeBeau, presents him at Canton, Ohio.
Again, it wasn’t a question of if when talking about Polamalu’s Hall of Fame induction; the only question was how long it would take.
But maybe another question that should have been asked back then is one that I will ponder today: Will any other member of those legendary defenses from the 2000s that helped Pittsburgh capture two more Lombardi trophies ever be honored with a call from Canton?
James Harrison, he of the 95-career sacks—including a team-record 86 with the Steelers—five trips to the Pro Bowl and a Defensive Player of the Year award (2008) likely has the best chance to get the call one day. But even he seems like a long-shot.
As for the likes of Joey Porter, Casey Hampton, James Farrior, Aaron Smith and even Ike Taylor, it’s doubtful anyone will ever stand up in front of that hard-to-persuade Pro Football Hall of Fame committee of voters and try to fight on their behalf.
That makes sense. After all, it would take a lot of convincing to get Harrison enshrined, let alone a bunch of other players who never consistently brought the goods in the stats/accolades department. And the only reason Harrison, who finished his career with two fewer sacks than Porter, is even a candidate in my mind is because of his DPOY award along with his hundred-yard dash to pay-dirt in Super Bowl XLIII.
You could make a case for Hampton, but for as good as he was as a 3-4 nose tackle, he was never truly head and shoulders above other 3-4 nose tackles of his era.
I’m not trying to throw shade on those players; I’m just pointing out how awesome they were at playing team defense. We’re talking about a unit that consistently finished number one in yards allowed. It was relentless at getting after the quarterback and pretty adept at taking the football away. If you were a running back trying to rush for 100 yards against that defense in that era, you were better off calling in sick on game day.
That defense didn’t have five future Hall of Fame players like the unit of the 1970s. But in a salary-cap and free-agency era that didn’t exist in the heydays of Mean Joe Greene and Jack Lambert, the Steelers of the 2000s were much better at replacing departing stars. Porter is cut following the 2006 season? Just replace him with an undrafted free agent from Kent State who will come out of nowhere to achieve greatness. Clark Haggans leaves a year later? Fine. Just replace him with 2007 second-round pick, LaMarr Woodley.
Chris Hope is a benefactor of becoming a free agent right when the Steelers win Super Bowl XL? Fine. Just replace him at strong safety with Ryan Clark, another former undrafted free agent.
Remember those times that Hampton missed games due to injury and was more than adequately replaced by Chris Hoke, a 2001 undrafted free agent from BYU?
I can go on and on about those legendary defenses from the 2000s, but I think you get my point.
Polamalu might be the only member of that defense who will represent it in Canton, Ohio. But the unit represented itself quite well in helping the Steelers capture two more Super Bowl trophies.
For that, it will always be immortal.