Polamalu created controlled chaos like no one else

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When the Steelers traded up from No. 27 to No. 16 in the 2003 draft to get safety Troy Polamalu, the move carried plenty of risk.  More than six years before the NFL became appropriately sensitive to the risks of concussions, Polamalu was considered to be a significant concussion risk.

With three concussions sustained at USC, many feared that the Steelers shouldn’t have rolled the dice on Polamalu.  The Steelers downplayed the potential downside, at a time when the Steelers were hoping to improve a defense that had surrendered 30 or more points eight times during the 2002 season.

“Players are going to get nicked, especially players who play as hard as he does. I think he’ll probably deliver a few more blows than he’ll take,” G.M. Kevin Colbert said at the time.

Polamalu did, becoming a versatile player whose calling card ultimately became the ability to create controlled chaos. With the freedom to move around, Polamalu developed a knack for being in the right place at the right time, sparking havoc and planting continuous doubt in the minds of quarterbacks who were never entirely sure that the guy wearing No. 43 wouldn’t pop up and pluck the ball out of the air.   And when that happened, his frenetic broken-field running skills left some to wonder why he didn’t return kickoff and/or punts in Pittsburgh.

Polamalu’s skills and abilities resulted in eight Pro Bowl berths, four first-team All Pro selections, and a defensive player of the year award for an iconoclastic player who spoke softly, didn’t cut his hair for 12 years, preferred working out alone, avoided weightlifting, and followed a diet that prompted him to routinely speak out against Gatorade, a significant NFL partner.

Even though he grew up in California with an ethnic background not typically to the Western Pennsylvania melting pot, Polamalu quickly became synonymous with Pittsburgh.

“I feel I approach what I do and my living as a football player the way they do, in this blue-collar mentality,” Polamalu said in 2006. “That’s a term thrown around a lot, but to say it and live it and to experience it — even though it’s a high-paying job like a football player — it’s no different to a hard-paying construction worker, a landscaper. It’s a blue-collar mentality.”

The question now isn’t whether he’ll make it to Canton but when.  It’ll probably happen on the first ballot, depending on the other players and coaches with whom he’ll be competing when he’s first eligible in five years.

Regardless on when he gets a bust with a free flowing bronze mane, Polamalu retires as one of the rare commodities in modern-day professional sports:  A truly great player who spent his entire career in one city.  The Steelers of the past decade have plenty of players who fall into that category, which says plenty about the franchise’s ability to contend more often than not.

52 responses to “Polamalu created controlled chaos like no one else

  1. I know known my opinion as a Steelers fan is biased but I could not agree more with this article. I know some say his productivity declined over the last couple of years but he was so fun to watch. Can’t imagine another player like him. I hope there are more. He made the game better in an era when defense was shunned by the nefarious ginger. Gonna miss him.

  2. It’s sad but with all the concentration on concussions in today’s NFL I can say that we will never see another player like him again.

    You don’t have to meet the guy to know how much he loves the game. The way he gave every ounce of his body to every play tells me he would have played for free.



  4. Umm………..Brian Dawkins, Ed Reed? All of them created chaos. These three were all some of the greatest safeties to play the game, so I don’t really think you can say, “like no one else”.

  5. My favorite player of this Steelers era and a man who fits in well with the legacy established here over the last 40+ years. I would have liked to see him play one more year—a farewell tour—but appreciate his thoughts that he did not consider playing for any other franchise and simply knew it was time.
    Tremendous player and even better individual.

  6. ” The Steelers of the past decade have plenty of players who fall into that category, which says plenty about the franchise’s ability to contend more often than not.”

    Precisely. Far more so than other teams. Last time the Steelers were below .500 was in the early 2000s! Yet clueless haters come on here every year and say they will be 6-10 and then never come back to admit how wrong they were. 😉

  7. It’s probably destiny that Ed Reed and Polamolu be eligible for the HOF at the same time and both go in on the first ballot.

    Then everyone can stop arguing and just appreciate two of the most entertaining safeties to ever play the game.

    Ravens and Steelers has fallen so quickly out of top NFL rivalries with the recent loss of players to both teams. The NFL will try to sell it up for certain… But I think most agree that it’s not that special of a game anymore unless you’re just one of those fans who needs to be able to trash talk another fan base… The games just aren’t that important. Not that engaging. Just another game on the schedule. Such a shame.

  8. The Steelers wing at Canton just keeps getting bigger. The Bus this year, Faneca soon, Hines maybe…Troy for sure.

    Of all the Steelers in Canton, Troy reminds me a little of Lynn Swann. Like Swann, Troy’s statistics are underwhelming but the penchant for big plays at big moments is undeniable.

  9. Great football player…..played the game inspired. You couldn’t find a nicer guy off the field. I feel like the media focuses so much on the negative things that the players do off the field so much, and in reality there are more players doing GREAT things on a regular basis. Imho

  10. Troy played the game the right way. Your style of play will be greatly missed. First ballot hall of fame player. Hope you and Patrick Willis get in together.

  11. Troy was great to watch and he abused bad QBs but a certain QB (cough, TB12) owned the Steelers because he picked on Troy when he did crazy things.

    Good debate who was better, Ed Reed or Troy though. I think Troy was more fun to watch but ultimately if I was a DC I’d want Ed Reed over Troy.

  12. Troy was a dynamic football player who seemed to be all over the field at times. His aggressiveness could be exploited at times, but you certainly had to know where he was all the time. The contemporary I most compare him to is Rodney Harrison, although Troys speed and cover ability certainly make him the better player. Comparisons to Ed Reed aren’t sensical as they played the position in completely different ways.

  13. “Its amazing how fast Polamalu went from being a superman to over the hill…
    It almost like it times up perfectly with the Steelers Doctor getting arrested and charged with 185 counts of distributing anabolic steroids…
    Weird coincidence huh??? Welp nothing to see here…”

  14. His hair made him look like he was creating more chaos that he actually was. Most of the time he was whiffing. Without the hair he would be consider average. Same goes for Clay Matthews.

  15. easily one of the steeler greats
    since some of the big names are gone

    steeler and ravens games aren’t the same.
    cant wait to see that him in the HOF

  16. Brian Dawkins? You’re kidding, right?
    And Reed? yeah, after Hines retired, he became the “ballhawking defenisve back of legend.” until that time, he cowered like a little boy, trying to stay away from number 86.
    Hey, but if there is a place in the Hall for Deion Sanders. THE most overrated DB of all time and a guy who never failed to stay away from tackling, well, then maybe your boys will get in, too. Right after Troy, of course.

  17. copycatsarelame says:
    Apr 10, 2015 4:22 AM
    Umm………..Brian Dawkins, Ed Reed? All of them created chaos. These three were all some of the greatest safeties to play the game, so I don’t really think you can say, “like no one else”.

    Uh, guess again. Reed wasn’t known for blowing past guards and blasting backs for losses. Dawkins was never caught on film leaping over the o-line 4 feet in the air and somehow timing it so he’s not offsides. As the poster above said: “He’s still the only guy I ever saw who pulled off a sack on a quarterback sneak play.”

    That’s right, because there WAS no other safety like Polamalu and who did what he did. He was unique and in a class by himself. Reed did one thing great, Pola did 3 or 4. That’s why he’s superior. And I have to laugh at all the clueless types coming here wondering if he’s Hall-of-Fame worthy.

  18. number1hawkfan says:
    Apr 10, 2015 5:25 AM
    Am I the only one who thinks he’s a tad overrated. A great player but not the HOFer he gets credit for.

    Pretty easy to think he’s overrated when you just started watching football two or three years ago like the majority of Seahawk fans — Troy’s capabilities had already started descending by then.

  19. Those that say Troy isn’t a HOFer or that Reed was better have never seen Troy play in his prime. Yes Reed is/was a great player, but he didn’t have the instincts that Troy had. I’ve seen Troy do things that boggled my mind. Opposing teams had to make their plans based on whether he was in the game or not because you never knew where he was going to be. A class act not only on the field but off. Steeler Nation salutes you Troy and you will be missed! The game will never be quite as fun as it was when you were playing it.

  20. For every play Troy blew up in the backfield he would over pursue a play. A great player in his prime but not close to the greatest safety of all time in Ed reed.

  21. Not even an honorable mention for Rodney Harrison who made everyone else around him better? His brief 2003-2008 Patriots career saw them achieve a 77-19 regular season record with 3 trips to the Super Bowl.

  22. Sorry, but it’s Reed and not even close:

    Reed Troy
    64 ints 32 ints
    11 FF 14 FF
    6 sacks 12 sacks
    531 tackles 581 tackles
    7 int for TD 3 int for TD
    13 total TD! 5 total TD
    1 safety to boot

    Reed was the ultimate game changer. Troy was a close second, but I saw Reed win multiple games pretty much by himself. He played lights out on coverage and with a very good returner.

  23. Pretty sure Troy and Ed think well of each other and would say most of you are trolls and children. They were both one of a kinds and played different safety positions with different skill sets with different responsibilities. I’m Steelers fan and I say to Steelers and Ravens fans: get over it. So glad I got to watch them two hall of fame one of a kind game changers, both of whom are not as good as Ronnie Lott.

  24. Putting up raw stats and declaring Reed “better” only shows you just don’t get it. Like you said redskins dude, Reed played great coverage — but that was about it. That was all he did. Meanwhile, Polamalu played great coverage and was a superb returner (just ask Flacco) but did a whole bunch of other things Reed couldn’t dream of doing. (In fact, stuff that no other safety could, for that matter.) Stuff that won’t just show up on stat sheets — really, anybody who does that hasn’t seen a lot of Polamalu.

  25. Again, I’m a Steelers fan, but Ed Reed blows Polamalu out of the water in terms of interceptions and interceptions returned for TDs. Maybe that was all Ed did, but it made him a game changer. These feuds are maddeningly stupid: different safety positions, different skill sets, tasked with different responsibilities. Did Polamalu make tackles Ed could only dream of? Sure. Am I supposed to suddenly declare Troy obviously the better of the two? Both are Hall of Fame locks.

  26. BDawn any day of the week over this guy. Everyone likes his high motor and crazy awareness but he was banged up a lot towards the end. I wonder how many games he played in the past 5 season..anyone?

  27. Quote “Polamalu developed a knack for being in the right place at the right time.” This sums it up perfectly.

    In his prime, I think Polamalu was perhaps the best ever. As the article says, he was everywhere and the offense never knew where he would pop up and make some amazing play. He turned the “jump over the line and get to the QB” play into an art form.

    He also was an exemplary person off the field: never beat up a woman or child, never shot anyone (or himself) in a nightclub.

    Alas, as happens to everyone, he is past his prime. We will miss him.

  28. hugeredskinsfan says:
    Apr 10, 2015 11:49 AM
    Sorry, but it’s Reed and not even close:

    Reed Troy
    64 ints 32 ints
    11 FF 14 FF
    6 sacks 12 sacks
    531 tackles 581 tackles
    7 int for TD 3 int for TD
    13 total TD! 5 total TD
    1 safety to boot

    Hey hungered skins fan – Troy had 771 tackles, so more than 200 than Reed. Quit changing stats to make yourself look cool

  29. His biggest play ever was overturned (Interception in the divisional playoffs going to SB XL). Later the NFL apologized. Still have problems sleeping due that crap.

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