The final defensive award that we’ll give out for the 2008 NFL season is named for former Cardinals safety Pat Tillman.
The irony of naming an award for Tillman is that he really wouldn’t care. He didn’t play football for fame, and he didn’t quit the game for notoriety. He did what he did with no deeper meaning or agenda, and he was not motivated by the things that motivate most of the rest of us.
He played football because he loved the game. He stopped because he felt that he had a duty to make a sacrifice in honor of those whose sacrifices allowed him to play football.
He ultimately made the biggest sacrifice. And though we support any and all efforts to get to the truth regarding why his life ended and whether the military covered up the truth, we don’t want such questions to obscure the fact that Tillman did something for the collective benefit of the rest of us that only the smallest handful of pro athletes ever would willingly do.
This year’s award goes to a guy who, like Tillman, marches to the beat of a drummer that the rest of us can’t hear. It’s Steelers safety Troy Polamalu.
Polamalu edged out Baltimore’s Ed Reed in PFT Planet Polling, and we’re glad that Polamalu prevailed, because we likely would have overruled the will of the many on this one.
Polamalu is a guy who has as much of an impact on an opposing offense as a field-stretching receiver has on a defense. The quarterback must always know where Polamalu is — before the snap, at the snap, and during the play.
He always seems to be in the right place at the right time. He contorts his body to get to the quarterback or to scoop the ball before hits the grass. He moves with reckless abandon. He generates the most excitement after making an interception or recovering a fumble, moving frenetically through the broken field and, more often than not, finding a way through the maze.
Though Reed is close behind, Polamalu is the best safety in the game. Together, they are two of the best ever, and hopefully they will be spots in Canton for both of them.