"Part of the reason I wanted to come back was they’re talented, they’re really talented," he said. "I think it’s an exciting time to be a Steeler...the team next year can be really successful. How successful, only time will tell."
The statement above offered by Troy Polamalu during his retirement interview last Friday says a lot about the legacy Polamalu and many of his former, fellow recent retirees left on the Steelers organization.
Many other quotes, tweets and interviews offered by Polamalu's former teammates that are current members of the Steelers says even more about what Troy and his former teammates left behind. While Polamalu, Brett Keisel, Ryan Clark, Ike Taylor and others accomplished a great deal during their time together as Steelers, what should also be included in their legacy is the state of the franchise that they're leaving behind.
The Steelers are in good hands, and much of that is due to the newly retired players that mentored the current players while also infusing in them what it means to be a Steeler.
A staggering amount of current Steelers offered tweets congratulating Polamalu and Taylor on their retirements this past week. Many of them tagged pictures of themselves with either Polamalu and Taylor while referring to them as their "big brother(s)." In this era of free agency and with the egos that can surely exist in professional sports, it's refreshing to see this type of camaraderie still exist at the highest level of competition. "Brotherhood" and "Band of Brothers" were words often uttered by the Steelers players to describe the team's close bond during Pittsburgh's last Super Bowl championship run in 2008. That bond is something that Polamalu, Taylor and other recently retired Steelers have fostered down to the current group, and it's something that hopefully continues into 2015 and beyond.
The Steelers team Polamalu and Taylor joined in 2003 was not very good. The team staggered to a 6-10 mark in that season, marking the fourth time in six years where Pittsburgh did not qualify for the playoffs. Sparked by Polamalu and Taylor's competitive drive, the addition of other key players like Ben Roethlisberger and the leadership provided by veterans Jerome Bettis, Hines Ward and Joey Porter and Keisel helped transform the Steelers into one of the best teams in the league for the rest of the 2000's. Pittsburgh went 15-1 the following season in 2004 and won their first of two Super Bowls in the decade the following year.
While they both saw limited action last season, Polamalu and Taylor could often be seen on the field providing support, advice and encouragement to the younger players. Keisel returned for a 14th and final season with Pittsburgh and provided a spark on the defensive line while helping mentor rookie Stephon Tuitt and fellow defensive linemen Cameron Hayward and Steve McLendon. Much maligned during the season, the Steelers defense began to grow up in 2014, and by season's end posted consecutive impressive outings against the Chiefs and Bengals to help the Steelers clinch the AFC North title.
Today, Keisel, Polamalu, and Taylor are gone, but their impact on the team is alive and well. The brotherhood is still there, along with the winning attitude that has existed with every successful Steelers team. Troy, Ike, Brett and others made the Steelers organization better after they arrived, and in large part due to their efforts, the Steelers are in a good place now.
In hindsight, 2014 was in many ways a passing of the torch in Pittsburgh and, based on Polamalu's quotes, the current Steelers are ready to make their own niche in Steelers lore.