Troy Polamalu, The Timely Magician Between The Hash Marks

We learned late last night that Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro strong safety Troy Polamalu informed the organization of his intentions to retire after playing 12 seasons in the NFL, all with the team that drafted him back in 2003 in the first round of the draft.

Since then, Polamalu played in 158 regular season games and was one of only two players during that time period to record 30 interceptions, 10 forced fumbles, and 10 sacks. The other player was Charles Woodson, one of the few defensive players to win the Heisman Trophy.

Among his accolades are eight nominations to the Pro Bowl, five All-Pro bids, three appearances in the Super Bowl, two championship rings, one Defensive Player of the Year award, and recognition as part of the NFL’s 2000s All-Decade team.

His final statistics register at 770 tackles, 12 sacks, 32 interceptions, 14 forced fumbles, and three touchdowns. But if we’re being honest with ourselves, statistics simply do not do justice to the quality of player that Polamalu was on the field, and that is exactly why he will be in the Hall of Fame sooner rather than later.

Truth be told, I often watched Polamalu in his prime in the same way that I would watch a magician operate, perhaps not fully understanding the process of the performance, but consistently marveling at the end result.

Anybody who has followed his career has a highlight reel of plays running through their heads as they look back on Polamalu’s legacy. And if you’ve been following along, you also know that the nature of his highlight reel players is not exactly the norm.

So many of the plays of individual excellence that the future Hall of Famer made certainly felt like the one in a lifetime variety, and yet he himself managed to duplicate some of them, whether it is scraping an interception off the turf or pouncing over the offensive line to disrupt the quarterback.

And for as many plays that he has made over the years, so many of them were just so remarkably timely, giving the Steelers the boost that they needed at just the right time. That was one of the main things that made their defenses from the mid- to late-00s as dominant as they were.

Yet from everybody who has had the luxury of getting to know him on a personal level, it seems that he commits himself to excellence even more as a man than he has as a professional athlete. He played the sport for as long as he did because he loved it, but it was always just a part of his life, and not the whole.

There’s no doubt that there will be a void in the Steelers’ defensive backfield without Polamalu, who has been a consistent presence for Pittsburgh for over a decade. But the team will move on, in time, as will the fans, as he begins the next chapter and gets on with his life’s work.

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