There certainly seem to be a lot of Pittsburgh Steelers fans very angry over the fact that there are not four members of the team being enshrined in Canton this year. The argument could easily be made that Alan Faneca should have been a part of the modern class. I’m not going to make that argument. I’m going to focus on the three who are going in.
Troy Polamalu highlights the class as the only first-ballot inductee, a generational safety who changed the way the game was played. He gets the opportunity to share the class with head coach Bill Cowher, the man who drafted him, as well as the greatest safety in team history to precede him, Donnie Shell, and that fact was not lost on him.
“It’s a tremendous blessing, especially with Coach Cowher, of course, the fact that he drafted me”, he told a Hall of Fame panel soon after he was officially elected to be a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame over the weekend.
“It was a huge blessing for me to play for a Hall of Fame coach for the time period that we had together, as well as Donnie Shell”, he added. “The Pittsburgh Steelers defense of the 70s laid the foundation for the great defenses that I’ve been a part of, and it’s a tremendous honor for me to be in the same class as him as well”.
Shell was an undrafted free agent in 1974, as part of a draft class that has now produced five members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, along with wide receivers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, linebacker Jack Lambert, and center Mike Webster.
In contrast, Polamalu was one of the most well-regarded prospects coming out of college in 2003, so much so that the Steelers had to trade up in the first round in order to get him. I’m not certain they had ever traded up in the first round before that, another indication of how good a prospect he was.
While Shell had to wait decades, and Polamalu didn’t have to wait at all, and their draft experiences couldn’t have been more different, it’s fitting that they go in together, and fitting that Cowher joins them. Not many people know this, but Shell was a coaching intern while Cowher was still in Kansas City, before the Steelers hired him.
As Polamalu said, the great defenses of the 1970s built a legacy upon which the team has continued to look back and try to replicate in deed. Shell and Polamalu, therefore, were always linked, but now that link will be immortalized, in public view, as they share the stage as members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2020.