Good luck trying to find a more humble man in professional football than Troy Polamalu, one of the greatest players of his generation who repeatedly and consistently deflected any accolade that went in his direction as a testament instead to his teammates and coaches for allowing him to be in the position to succeed.
A 2013 first-round draft pick, Polamalu helped to redefine the strong safety position in the NFL over the course of a 12-year career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, earning eight Pro Bowls, six All-Pros (four first-team), two Lombardi trophies, three Lamar Hunt trophies, and the 2010 Defensive Player of the Year Award. And now a bust in Canton.
“It’s surreal. It really feels surreal”, he told Missi Matthews for the Steelers’ website, when she interviewed him shortly after he officially received the news of his election on Saturday evening. “Very thankful for all my teammates. This truly is a tribute to them. And I feel honored and unworthy of this, to be honest”.
While watching his highlights, it’s almost unbelievable to hear Polamalu say that he feels unworthy of the honor. But then you remember it’s Polamalu who’s saying it, and is suddenly completely unsurprising. That is how he’s always been throughout his career, and throughout his life.
Joining Polamalu as part of the 2020 Canton class is his head coach, Bill Cowher, and one of his predecessors, Donnie Shell, who played safety during the dynasty era. He is the first Steelers enshrinee who played most of his career with the franchise since Jerome Bettis in 2015, and the first to be elected on his first year of eligibility since Rod Woodson in 2009. He is the ninth Steeler of all time to be elected as a first-ballot Hall of Famer, including head coach Chuck Noll.
“Bringing it all to fruition and being here today and hearing that knock, it was definitely a special experience”, said Polamalu upon learning that he would indeed be a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2020.
Over the course of his career, he recorded nearly 800 tackles, with 56 for a loss. He intercepted 32 passes, returning three for touchdowns (as well as two fumbles), defensed over 100 passes, forced 14 fumbles, and recorded 12 sacks.
Anybody who watched him play, however, knows that his career cannot be summarized on a stat sheet. That’s why he’s a Hall of Famer, not because of his numbers. He was indisputably one of the greatest players at his position for a long stretch of time. Had he not had two seasons during the prime of his career severely limited due to injury, his legacy would be even greater.