Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell is reporting the news that Steelers Nation has both anticipated and dreaded during the Steeler 2015 off season: Pittsburgh Steelers legend Troy Polamalu retires.
As Jim Wexell reports, the decision is rooted deeply in Troy Polamalu’s Greek Orthodox faith, and as he reflected on the situation during the Holy Week, the decision became clear. Polamalu, who is 33 related to Wexell in these terms:
Thirty-three is obviously significant because of Christ being 33; and 12 years, 12 apostles. I’m not superstitious by any means but I always thought that if I played 12 years and retire from football at 33 and give my life and give my body and give my blood to this game, I think that would be a pretty significant landmark in my life.
Polamalu shared that he sought advice from friends and colleagues and was told over and over again that he had nothing to prove. He also Polmalu confided to Wexell that he is not sure what he will do now that he has decided it is time for him to being “Life’s work,” but he also relayed that his decision was based in his family.
Steelers Lose a Leader, Steelers Nation Gains a Leader
Troy Polamlu’s presence will be missed by the Pittsburgh Steelers, both on and off the field. Troy Polamalu was a leader. He might have been a quiet leader, but led by example.
While his skills have been in decline for several years, Polamalu in his prime was one of the best. He wasn’t simply one of best Steelers to play in this second Super Bowl era. He wasn’t simply one of the best Steelers ever.
- Troy Polamalu was one of the greatest players ever to put in an NFL football uniform.
Football is the ultimate team game. Yes, football teams have their stars are both sides of the ball, and quarterbacks, because they touch the ball on ever play, have disproportionate influence. But it is truly rare to find a non-quarterback who can take over a game, and finding defensive players who can alter the course of a game is ever rarer.
- Joe Greene could. Dick Butkis did it. Lawrence Taylor dominated. Mel Blount forced the NFL to change rules.
As my friend Ivan Cole at Behind the Steel Curtain has said, Troy Polamalu is one of those rare “generational” players – meaning literally what it says, Troy Polamlau is one of those players who you literally only see once a generation.
To understand what this means, take a look at Troy Polamalu’s stat sheet. The record shows that he only has 3 interceptions returned for touchdowns in the regular season and 1 in the post season.
- While that’s certainly respectable, its deceptively pedestrian.
After all, William Gay had 3 pick sixes in 2014 alone. But what makes a player special, what makes a player generational, isn’t simply their ability to make big plays, but to make them at opportune times.
Perhaps no Pittsburgh Steeler in history excelled at rising to the occasion when it was necessary more than Troy Polamlau. Consider:
- His first pick six sealed a crucial victory for a 2-1 Steelers squad with a rookie quarterback named Ben Roethlisberger
- In the 2005 Divisional playoffs his wrongly overturned interception of Peyton Manning would have and should have ended that contest
- The next time he took an interception to the house was in the AFC Championship
- Two years later he’d strip sack Joe Flacco to turn the tide in a key 2010 road win at Baltimore
And those are just a sampling of Troy Polamlau’s heroics in truly big Pittsburgh Steelers games. He did it time and time again through his career, whether it was in the gravity defying pick in the Steeler 11-10 victory over San Diego, his goal line pick vs. Buffalo in 2010, or his overtime interception vs. at Atlanta earlier that year.
Let’s watch his greatest play one last time:
By any measure, this is truly a incredible play.
But keep the context in mind:
The post-Noll Steelers were 1-5 at Three Rivers Stadium and Heinz Field in AFC Championship games. 5 minutes earlier the Baltimore Ravens had just narrowed to the Steelers lead to 2 points, and had their defense stopped the Steelers offense cold for the entire 4th quarter.
- A Hollywood screenwriter couldn’t have scripted Troy Polamlau’s finest moment any better.
That ability to make plays in a timely manner is what separates the good from the truly great. It’s what lifts a linebacker like Greg Lloyd or James Harrison over player such as Jason Gildon, who might have better stats.
Polamalu’s Retirement Echos Other Steelers Legends
Troy Polamlau also related something special to Jim Wexell as he recounted:
But when I started this process and started to debate whether I should come back or should I play, that was kind of the sign for me to say ‘Whoa, if you’re just even debating it maybe you shouldn’t play anymore….
From up in heaven, former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Chuck Noll is going be hearing that and smiling. Whenever one of the Super Steelers approached Noll about the possibility of retiring, the Emperor delivered the same response, “If you’re thinking about retiring, you should retire.”
Chuck Noll may have passed away, but Troy Polamalu remains an apostle. How approporate. Because although Troy Polamlau never played for Chuck Noll, his status as a Steelers legend is every bit the equal of those who did.