Troy Polamalu retires after a long, illustrious 12-year career with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“I did not consider playing elsewhere,’’ Polamalu said. “It was just whether or not I wanted to play. I had talked to a lot of people about what I should do with my situation.’’
The Steelers told Polamalu they wanted him to retire. Had he not, they planned to release him. However, because of his revered status both within the organization and with the fans, they gave him time to come to his own conclusion that he had enough.
By retiring, Polamalu won’t be paid his $6 million salary but all of the pro-rated signing bonus left over the next two years of his contract will count against the Steelers’ salary cap in 2014, $4.5 million. Even so, his retirement will clear $3.75 million in cap room for the team this year and he will not count against them in the future.
Troy Aumua Polamalu, who turns 34 April 19, leaves as one of the most decorated and popular players in franchise history. Fans considered him more than a football player, one who embodied all that anyone could ask of an athlete as a role model.
He was selected to eight Pro Bowls, he made first-team All-Pro four times and was the 2010 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He also is on the Steelers’ 75th Anniversary Team and the NFL’s 2000s All-Decade team.
Although he did not start a game until his second season, he was voted the team’s Rookie of the Year in 2003. Earlier that year, the Steelers traded draft picks in the third and sixth rounds to Kansas City in order to move from their spot at 27th in the first round to 16th, where they selected Polamalu of Southern Cal.
“I wasn’t ready,’’ Polamalu said last year, explaining why he did not start as a rookie. “I played in everything except start. I played all the special teams, nickel, dime, goalline. But I efinitely was not ready” to start.
He finished his Steelers career with 32 interceptions and 12 sacks in the regular season. His five touchdown returns on turnovers are tied for second in franchise history. Last season was only the second time in his 11-year career as a starter he did not have an interception.
Polamalu also had three interceptions in the post-season and one of them ranks among the most important plays in team history.
It came in the 2008 AFC championship game against Baltimore at Heinz Field. The Steelers led 16-14 but the Ravens had the ball with 4:24 left, third down at their 29. Joe Flacco threw a pass to the right that Polamalu picked off and returned 40 yards for a touchdown to put the Steelers in the Super Bowl they would win.
He did in the Ravens again to help secure the 2010 AFC North Division championship in Baltimore. A showdown for that division title came Dec. 5. The Ravens held a four-point lead with 3:22 left and the ball on their 43, second-and-five. The Steelers seemingly would need a huge play to pull it out.
Polamalu gave it to them. He blitzed, knocked the ball out of Flacco’s hand and LaMarr Woodley recoverd at Baltimore’s nine. Ben Roethlisberger threw a touchdown pass to Isaac Redman for the winner that helped send them to another Super Bowl.
Those kinds of plays and their important timing seemed typical of his career and what he enjoyed most about playing football, as he emphasized in one comment last year:
“I was talking to one player and he was saying, ‘I really enjoy playing in space,’ and I said I enjoy being wherever the ball is. Wherever the ball is, that’s where I want to be.”
He always seemed to be around the ball somehow, playing at warp speed, bouncing around in the defense so no quarterback could ever figure out where he would align. He was renowned for studying opposing offenses to the point that it seemed as if he were the one barking out the offensive plays.
It appeared at times that he was free-lancing, but he really was
Setting up initially in various spots on the field with the intention of being in the correct position once the ball was snapped. Many times he would line up on the left side of the defense and by the time the ball was snapped, wind up rushing the quarterback around the right side.
Any number of times, he leaped over the line of scrimmage trying to time the quarterback’s snap and make a play, often doing so or at least disrupting the play. He did that in the 2010 season opener, tackling Tennessee quarterback Kerry Collins for a loss. And, after each and every play, the deeply religious Polamalu could be seen making the sign of the cross multiple times.
With his talent, his playmaking, his speed and quickness, and his long, curly black hair spilling out of the back of his helmet and covering the name on his jersey, Polamalu’s popularity was unmatched by any Steelers player in the post-Super Bowl ‘70s. TV ratings and newspaper website clicks soared when he was the subject of stories. He was soft-spoken and hard-hitting with an engaging personality. He has been a particularly large favorite among female fans – for example, in 2010, his women’s No. 43 jersey sold more than any other NFL player.
Tales flourished around the Pittsburgh area about Polamalu picking up the dinner tabs for total strangers in restaurants, stories he would never confirm but others insisted were true.
He long has starred in commercials for Head & Shoulders shampoo. In 2010, he filmed a remake of the famous Joe Greene Coca-Cola commercial with a decidedly different ending.
He and his wife run the Troy & Theodora Polamalu Foundation “that aims to raise awareness of the circumstances surrounding those less fortunate, and to increase fundraising efforts in order to provide a larger scale of assistance,’’ according to its website. He and Theodora have two sons.
Last August at training camp at Saint Vincent College, Polamalu spoke about getting older and how it might affect him and his play.
“Time will tell, age will tell. I do, I feel good. I’m not going to tell you a lie and be like I’m in the greatest shape of my life. In truth, im in the best shape that I can be in right now, in my 12th year. Time will tell whether that’s relevant this year.”
He turned the same phrase at the end of the season when asked if he would play again.
“Time will tell,’’ he said.