Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu have accounted for one half of the starting secondary for the Pittsburgh Steelers for the past decade. Both former classmates of the team’s 2003 draft, in which Polamalu, a strong safety, was taken in the first round and Taylor, a cornerback, was taken in the fourth, the 12-year veterans both revealed their retirements within the span of the past week.
For those who have watched the two of them grow up in this defense over that span of time, it will certainly be paradigm-shifting to not see them out there together, taking the field with the starters on opening day, as they have done every year since 2005.
Admittedly, the shift is more significant on a psychological level than on a performance level, as we have seen a steep drop in their play even just during the past season, albeit mired with injuries for both of them.
Taylor only played in five games last year, in fact, first missing the majority of the season after suffering a broken forearm and then getting banged around upon his return late in the year. By that point, the Steelers were uncomfortable with him returning, and he was scratched from their playoff game, which would have been his last.
Polamalu, too, suffered multiple injuries and ended up missing two pairs of games, but did return for the playoff game and recorded eight tackles in the process, but he, too, was clearly not the same as he once was.
But this defense as a whole is not what it once was either, nor will it ever be the same without their presence in the lineup. The defense of the mid-00s through the early 2010s was dominant for many reasons, but their stability in the lineup was a huge part of it.
They are, after all, the last of the defensive players who started in each of the Steelers’ past three Super Bowls. Brett Keisel, who was released earlier this offseason, joined them. James Harrison had been in all three games, but was not a starter for the 2005 championship.
While it was already a foregone conclusion that the Steelers would be moving on from Taylor and Polamalu this offseason, and that we would no longer be graced with their presence in the black and gold on Sundays, the fact that they have both announced their retirement from the game within the span of a week makes the finality of their departure resonate even greater.
Perhaps it is because we didn’t know whether or not they might still be playing for another team, as Ryan Clark and Larry Foote did last year, and one might argue that they seemed to have even less left on the bone.
But seeing them both leave together, as they came in together, certainly brings out the reflective nature of transition, and the Steelers moving on without the two of them back there in the secondary is certainly a big one. Those who seek to replace them could only hope to have half the careers and success that they shared together.