The Hall of Fame is reserved for the sorts of players whom the next generation or two of stars at their position will say in an interview that they grew up watching, and as their career developed began studying. These men who enter the Hall are some of the greatest to play the game, and helped define the era in which they played.
While his game is difficult to emulate just because of the rare combination of athleticism, intelligence, and sheer will he possessed, former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu was unquestionably one of those players, and he continues to influence the young safeties who are coming into the league today.
Having retired after the 2014 season, it took the team a few years before they would find another safety who could even be mentioned in the same sentence as him, that being 2018 11th overall pick Minkah Fitzpatrick, who since coming to the Steelers has been a first-team All-Pro twice. He talked about the legacy of Troy and the shadow in which he stands in Pittsburgh during an appearance on the NFL Network on Sunday.
“When you see guys like Troy Polamalu up there getting his enshrinement and getting his jacket and whatnot, it’s definitely inspiring”, he said. “When I first got here and I was making my plays—obviously we’re not the same player, but people were saying, oh, he has the same playmaking ability as Troy Polamalu, and that’s inspiring to me, because just to be compared to a guy like that, it’s like, ‘man, these people really think I’m an elite player like him’”.
Since Polamalu intercepted seven passes in 2010, there hadn’t been another Steeler who recorded more than three interceptions in a single season before Fitzpatrick (and then Joe Haden) did it his first season here, in 2019. He did it again last year, and the plan is certainly to keep doing it as long as he’s playing.
While he finished his career with 32 interceptions, Polamalu’s career could not be summed up in numbers. That’s one of the things that makes him a Hall of Famer, but to see him enshrined leaves an impact on those influenced by him.
“It’s definitely achievable. It’s definitely attainable, and it makes it even more realistic when you see these players that you’re following in the footsteps of”, Fitzpatrick said of watching his enshrinement on Saturday night, and whether the reality of the moment helped him flesh out the possibility of his own induction someday.