The National Football League recently introduced a new class of members into the Pro Football Hall of Fame over the weekend. While it did not include any members of the Pittsburgh Steelers at this time, there are a few out there waiting who are likely to be candidates in the near future.
I don’t know that wide receiver Hines Ward is ever going to make it into the Hall of Fame. While Steelers fans will understand and embrace his intangibles, such as his elite blocking abilities and his penchant for clutch catches, his numbers are ultimately borderline at a point-of-no-return after which future wide receiver numbers will make them look pedestrian in time.
I am much more confident that, in time, guard Alan Faneca will make it. It is not easy for offensive linemen, particularly offensive linemen, to make it into the Hall of Fame—Dermontti Dawson certainly had to wait his turn—but they do ultimately get in, and he undoubtedly has the resume to support his enshrinement.
But it’s quite possible that the very next Steeler that makes it into the Hall of Fame will be former safety Troy Polamalu, who retired, somewhat voluntarily, one might argue, following the 2014 season, meaning that he will first be eligible for induction in the 2020 class, as you must be retired for five seasons.
Elliot Harrison of NFL.com is of the opinion that Polamalu is going to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, which is relatively rare, and especially so for safeties. There are only a small handful of true, full-time safeties who have actually made it in, but I would not argue against the notion that the former Defensive Player of the Year will get in, and perhaps as soon as possible.
Loved watching this guy play. Yes, Polamalu was a Pro Bowler, All-Pro and even Defensive Player of the Year (in 2010). But that’s not why his career was so rad. Polamalu was a bona fide risk-taker on the football field, unlike any player before or after him. He could drive coaches and teammates alike completely nuts, until they saw him dashing around with the football in his hand, having jumped a route, jumped a running play, or jumped over the line to disrupt the offensive sequence before it ever had a chance to well, sequence. Kind of like the time the Titans didn’t know what hit them. Polamalu was an intuitive football player, with other interests that belied the deep football knowledge he possessed. He was a team player who often went off the team script to follow his instincts. My script for 2020 sends the former safety into the Hall of Fame as a first-ballot enshrinee.
When Polamalu retired in April two years ago, I wrote a tribute in which I called him a timely magician. In hindsight, it’s not a phrase that exactly rolls off the tongue, but I still think that it accurately portrays his true impact. Often enough, whenever the Steelers needed him most, he came out of nowhere to make the play just at the time that they needed it.