Top Ten Steelers Tandems Of All-Time: Ryan Clark & Troy Polamalu (#5)

Troy Polamalu

Peanut butter and jelly. Abbott and Costello. The Pittsburgh Steelers and a rapid increase in your blood pressure every Sunday. Some of the world’s truest reliable duos.

That got me to thinking. Who are the best tandems in Steelers’ history? A dynamic duo who dominated the league. If one guy didn’t make the play, the other did. With such a long and storied history, it was difficult to come up with a list. But here’s my order of the top ten in black and gold. These are all players who played the same position, weighed by individual talent and the success shared together. So you won’t see, for example, QB to WR combinations on this list because if I did, that’s basically all this list would consist of (Bradshaw to Swann, Bradshaw to Stallworth, Ben to Ward, Ben to Brown, you get the idea). And these are duos only. Buddy system here, only pairs of two, not three or more.

#5: FS/SS Ryan Clark & Troy Polamalu (2006-2013)

Have two players complemented each other as well as these two? It’s hard to find a stronger example.

Clark needed Troy. Clark was a big hitter, sturdy, trusted tackler, but not a flashy player. He didn’t create a lot of turnovers, didn’t have the ability to make the magical, highlight reel play. And Troy needed Clark. Polamalu was capable of those moments that make you watch and rewatch but he was Troy. Chaotic energy, bouncing around, in the box, into the deep half, blitzing, roaming sideline to sideline. Rarely was it freelancing, that part of his game always been misunderstood, but it was haywire. Clark provided that steady, known presence snap-to-snap.

Kevin Colbert signed Clark as a free agent in 2006, quietly one of the best signings since running the Steelers. Immediately, they were part of a defense in or near the top ten in several categories including points per game, interceptions, and every stat involving run defense. In 2007, they were dominant though both men missed large chunks of the season.

It all came together in 2008. They stayed healthy and Pittsburgh turned in the NFL’s #1 defense pretty much across the board. A 12-4 record vaulted them into the playoffs and the defense went to work. Here are the points allowed game-by-game:

San Diego: 24
Baltimore: 14
Arizona: 23

Those are three of the top 11 offenses that year with the Chargers and Cardinals cracking the top five. And the Steelers shut them down. Of course, Polamalu made one of the top plays in recent Steelers’ playoff history, pick-sixing Joe Flacco to seal the win and send the Steelers on their way to an eventual Lombardi.

Clark’s known for plays that’d be illegal today, though don’t hold that against him, like his monster blows on Wes Welker and Willis McGahee. Here’s one of him knocking the ball out of Mike Vick’s hands years ago, recovered by the Steelers in the end zone. Mike Tomlin made sure to show him some love for a job well done.

Many of Polamalu’s highlights are well remembered. His one-handed catch against San Diego (though I’d argue a similar pick vs Philly that year was equally, maybe even more, impressive). Jumping over the line of scrimmage time and time again. Flying downhill to tackle Chris Johnson, a play so good I literally went back to rewatch it while writing this article. But this tackle on Tatum Bell in the ’05 AFC Championship game is criminally underrated. 3rd and 9 screen, coming across the field, working off the block, and making a one-handed tackle on a back in space and at full speed, still stopping him shy of the sticks. Just…wow.

If only he had stayed a little healthier, this duo would’ve been even better remembered. And of course, Troy still overshadowed Clark. #43 is the one bound for the Hall of Fame. Clark probably won’t ever make it into the Steelers’ Hall of Honor. But when I think of a “duo,” two guys in lockstep with each other, making one another better, and life hell on opponents, it was these two guys. Good luck finding another two like them.

Top Ten Tandems

#10: DTs Ernie Stautner & Big Daddy Lipscomb (1961-1962)
#9: OGs Ramon Foster & David DeCastro (2012-Present)
#8: CBs Mel Blount & JT Thomas (1973-1981)
#7: RB/RET Lynn Chandnois & Ray Mathews (1951-1956)
#6: DEs LC Greenwood & Dwight White (1971-1980)
#5: FS/SS Ryan Clark & Troy Polamalu (2006-2013)

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