Veteran Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu missed the last two games of the regular season due to injury, but he returned to the starting lineup when his team returned to the postseason for the first time in three years.
In a somewhat unusual display, Polamalu relished the opportunity to participate in the opening coin toss, an obligation that he rarely attends to as a team captain. Perhaps the veteran chose to just take everything in this time around.
But will it be the last time around? And who will ultimately decide?
Polamalu was certainly active in the Wildcard game against the Baltimore Ravens, registering a combined eight tackles, which was a team high. Yet his efforts didn’t exactly seem impactful—even unusually so.
And that is just a continuation upon a theme that has run throughout much of this season. At 33 years of age, the one perennial All-Pro is certainly not the player that he once was. Sure, he’ll make a few impressive plays every now and then, but I can’t say that he is a difference maker any longer.
On the season, Polamalu had just one forced fumble, and failed to intercept a pass for just the second time in his career as a starter—and that year he forced three fumbles. In fact, he hardly got his hand on any passes all season, and didn’t register a sack.
Polamalu is not like the average football player, of course. Though he has excelled at the absolute highest level of his profession, to the point of being named the Defensive Player of the Year in 2010, he does not define himself by his job.
For Polamalu, there is so much more to life outside of football, even though he wholeheartedly embraces the life lessons that he believes can only be achieved through the sport. No doubt it’s something that he will carry with him long after his playing career is over.
Prior to the start of this season, the Steelers made some financial maneuvers with their veteran players. Both Polamalu and tight end Heath Miller were in the last years of their contracts. In order to open up some money on the books for cap purposes this year, the Steelers extended each player for two more years.
That certainly doesn’t mean that either of them will see the last year of that contract, let alone the next year, and that applies especially to the 33-year old Polamalu.
It very well may be the case that this is the year Polamalu chooses to step away from the game on his own terms.
It also very well may be the case that this is the year the organization chooses to move in a different direction at the position, perhaps turning to Will Allen for a season, or directly to Shamarko Thomas, or even another option not currently on the roster.
We certainly don’t know right now what’s going to happen, but one certainly has to wonder: has Troy Polamalu played his last game of football?