One of the stalwarts of two Steelers Super Bowl runs and one of the top safeties of his generation is stepping away from the game.
The Steelers’ first-round pick in 2003, Polamalu was known for his rare blend of instincts, athleticism and physicality. He was, at his best, a safety who could be deployed just about anywhere on the field, with the speed to cover deep and the ruggedness to thrive in run support. He finishes his career with 770 tackles and 32 interceptions.
Polamalu told Wexell his decision came after a good deal of contemplation, and that family was the primary factor. SteelCityInsider.net and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette both reported that the Steelers had asked Polamalu to retire, with the Post-Gazette reporting the club was prepared to release him.
But it never got to that point. Polamalu told Wexell when he “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,’ because what I do know about this game is it takes a lot — a lot – of commitment just to be an average player.”
The 33-year-old Polamalu figures to draw strong Hall of Fame consideration. Of his contemporaries, only the ballhawking Ed Reed of Baltimore was comparable from a playmaking standpoint.
One of the few knocks on Polamalu was durability; he played 16 games in only two of his final nine seasons. But when he was on the field, he played with dynamism rarely seen at his position, and he departs the game secure as a Pittsburgh legend, an integral member of the Super Bowl XL and XLIII squads.