The scene near the entrance to the field of the St. Vincent College practice field overwhelmed me.
The sun scorched on all those who sported black and gold in Latrobe, Pennsylvania as fans waited for training camp to start. Fans lined the silk fence that traveled from the top of the path to the edge of the practice field and I inserted myself in a spot that I hoped would increase my chances of receiving the signature of a player on my Steelers mini helmet.
Players began to trickle down the path, including many players who no one knew. But the intensity transcended the moment one specific individual began his journey down to the practice field. This player?
Despite the deafening sound of "Troy" coming from all lined up along the fence, the long-haired strong safety wasn't about to stop and sign autographs. He continued to stroll down the path on the opposite side of the fans. The man wanted nothing to do with the overzealous Steeler supporters who badly coveted his signature. I hadn't ever been to training camp in Latrobe, so I didn't know much of what to expect.
But the one thing I knew I wanted: Troy Polamalu's autograph.
I was a young kid at the time of my trip to Latrobe, which was before my days of writing and reporting, so the fan in me was alive and well. So naturally, Polamalu's autograph was at the top of my wish list.
But every other single human being nearby also wanted his autograph. So, after watching Polamalu's Coke Zero commercial, I thought I'd give "Mr. Polamalu" a try, rather than "Troy" which every other Steeler fan shouted. Somehow and someway, Troy heard my pre-puberty voice yelling "Mr. Polamalu" to him and he stopped, turned around and signed my helmet. As the smile on my face grew larger and larger, I couldn't believe it worked.
After chatting with him for a moment, I realized how genuine of a human being the hard-hitting defensive back was. While I already had a love for the type of player Polamalu was, this short conversation augmented my respect for him.
Polamalu received the nickname "Tasmanian Devil" for his reckless play on the field as he often intercepted passes and knocked running backs off their feet. Yet, this man was also one of the kindest and quietest men you'll ever meet. While I was fortunate to have met him, I know many Steelers fans who haven't met him hold him in just of high regard as I do.
Polamalu was more than just a talented strong safety to Steelers fans and the city of Pittsburgh.
No matter what type of week Steelers fans may have had, Troy Polamalu made us forget about our lives and appreciate the game of football. No one play can define him since he had so many awe-striking displays on the gridiron.
The Steelers safety who led the team to three Super Bowl trips and two victories often came out of nowhere, streaking across the field with his long locks flowing through the air. He sped past offensive lineman and running backs who tried to block him; it feels as if his career has sped past just as fast.
Thank you Mr. Polamalu for what you've done for the city of Pittsburgh the past 12 years. Your time in the black and gold has truly been head and shoulders above the rest.