Ex-Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward played with a chip on his shoulder the size of Heinz Field. Even after 13 years in the league, he reminded people he was a third-round draft pick, and maybe even convinced himself that was evidence no one thought he would succeed.
He offered to take a pay cut to stay in Pittsburgh after the 2012 season. The Steelers weren't interested in that, and he was released. Ward made an effort to shop his services around the league, but in finding no suitable offers, he elected to retire.
That very well could be the fate of safety Troy Polamalu, who's said to be teetering on retirement or release. Ward doesn't want to see it go down that way.
Post Gazette reporter Ed Bouchette landed an interview with Ward, who's experience with the situation Polamalu is in combined with his legendary status with the team makes him perhaps the strongest material witness to the situation.
"They tell you when you come into the league, play as long as you can," Ward told Bouchette. "I would hate to see Troy in another uniform. I just think some way, some how, they can figure out something to work things out."
The writing appears so clearly on the wall that Polamalu played his last game as a Steeler. His contract appeared to be structured with a post-June 1 2015 cut in mind. There is the possibility Polamalu and the Steelers work something out and Polamalu returns this year.
Nothing really points to that as a legitimate option, however.
That doesn't override the unsettling feeling Steelers fans would have in seeing Polamalu end his career in a different uniform, but those aren't mutually exclusive feelings. With the top free agents - or the perceived top free agents - having landed elsewhere by now, the start of Day 4 of free agency - it's not like the Steelers need extensive cap room anymore. They have the space to sign two players they are said to be looking at, Carolina running back DeAngelo Williams (who's visiting Pittsburgh today and is expected to sign) and New Orleans cornerback Patrick Robinson. They have the space to bring in those players and perhaps land an extension or two.
Polamalu's release would be about the assembly of the best roster they can make, not about creating cap space. His retirement would be met with sadness and nostalgia. It would also meet expectations from fans who are looking for the Steelers to launch the next chapter of success in a franchise that's been mired in mediocrity overall the last few years.
Ward looked back in the franchise's history for answers, and despite admittedly being bitter over the team's refusal to keep Ward around as a fourth receiver, primarily serving as a mentor to the team's up and coming young receivers, he knew his time was up.
"I looked back at Franco [Harris] and some of the other guys, it would feel weird putting on another uniform," Ward told Bouchette. "I don't think I could have given that effort in another uniform that I did in my Steelers uniform. That's when I knew it was time to leave."