One of the greatest things about the Pittsburgh Steelers teams of the 2000s to early 2010s is that, not only were they a great roster, they also had a lot of really great people. And typically, there were two players that were put above the rest among fans with respect to their simply being good human beings. One is Heath Miller. The other is Troy Polamalu.
Talk to them off the field and they’ll go on all day about the most innocuous topic imaginable in a thoughtful, soft-spoken tone. Other than their size and frame, you would never guess that they were football players performing at the top of their profession.
It’s largely for guys like these, but really all athletes, that the notion of the ‘switch’ was developed. The thinking is, you can ‘flip a switch’ in your head to go from the happy-go-lucky everyday Troy Polamalu to the guy that lays you out on the football field and jumps over the offensive line to bring you down for a loss.
The recently-anointed Hall of Famer participated heavily in media row in the leadup to the Super Bowl last week. We didn’t get to as many bits from all of those segments as we would have liked, and frankly I’m still going through one of them. But I thought his answer to a question about the switch was very telling about who he is.
Honestly, I don’t think it’s a switch. I just think I live life passionately. The game has to be played passionately. Part of the game is that it’s a violent game. If I were to be an MMA fighter, it’s not like I would take pillows out there. That is a violent sport as well. Or if I were to do something like ballet, I would do that with passion as well. I just loved to play a sport that had violence in it. Like I said, it’s just a part of my life. I serve my wife passionately, I serve my children passionately, I serve life passionately, and football is just a whole part of that.
Polamalu played one of the most violent positions in the game, particularly when factoring in the speed of collisions, and did so at a high level for a decade. There are few of his era who impacted the game at his position the way that he did, which is why he is being singled out to be honored as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
But aside from his simple natural ability and dedication to studying the game, the rest of it is just a natural byproduct of who he is. The way he plays, that’s just Polamalu being his organic self, in the same way that he plays with his kids—though obviously, far less violently.