It is nice to see someone who played with unfettered abandon, even joy, make it to the Hall of Fame.
It is hard to stand out on an NFL Defense, perhaps the most “team”-dependent play of any team sport. The most memorable individual plays are sacks. It appears to be the most one-v-one element in NFL defenses, and in the aftermath of the play, the camera hones in on the inevitable celebration by the sacker, more deeply impressing the memory. Most sacks come from the coverage by a defense, and it’s led by a defensive captain that can read a play on the field in a few seconds and adjust the defense.
Troy Polamalu’s career overlapped with peak fantasy football for me, where defensive players are not chosen. His pick by the Steelers was followed by Rothlisberger then Heath Miller and the teams I most closely remember as great Steeler teams were formed in those years.
Troy Polamalu was arguably the best NFL defensive player on the best NFL defensive team over eight of his twelve seasons. He averaged only a sack a year…yet somehow the most memorable defensive plays – for the sheer athleticism, not just for changing a game – other than James Harrison’s crucial Super Bowl touchdown returns, all involved him.
His interception in the 2008 playoffs is widely regarded as his most influential single play,
…though he was a regular executing the “Polamalu plunge,” diving over the line of scrimmage on short yardage to disrupt a play.
He was also at the heart of the most outrageous overturned call I can think of, his overturned interception that would have sealed the 2005 wild card against the Patriots.
The Steelers had done the rare move of trading up in the draft to 16th from 27th, giving up two later round picks as well to the Chiefs. They eschewed Penn State’s Larry Johnson who the Chiefs would select with the same spot. Johnson was for a while a stud running back, a feature of early round fantasy football picks – but ultimately an individual contributor.
The Steeler locker room has changed, and the team’s emphasis (like most of the league) is on offense now. The absence of real leadership there, real fun there, unlike Polamalu’s on defense a decade ago makes the heart grow fonder for his hall of fame career.