Andrew Dawson, Editor-in-Chief |
With the 16th pick in the 2003 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Troy Polamalu out of the University of Southern California (USC) and the rest was history. The uncharacteristically soft-spoken safety became the holy spirit of the Steelers’ legendary defense, winning two Super Bowls, a Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) award in 2010, being selected to the Pro Bowl eight times, and being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2020. Later that year, author Jim Wexell published the biography “Polamalu”, a truly inspiring story that captures the life of Troy Aumua Polamalu. This book focuses on his humble upbringing in Tenmile, Oregon, and gives insight on how his Samoan culture shaped him to be who he was on the football field, and who he is today.
Polamalu didn’t grow up in a traditional household setting. He lived with his Aunt Shelley and Uncle Salu who taught him about his Samoan heritage. Samoans live by a principle called Muamua Le Atua, which means “put God first, family second, and everything will fall into place.” Polamalu adopted this philosophy and became fascinated with Samoan culture. He studied Samoan culture and wanted to learn as much as he possibly could. His Uncle Salu even taught Troy fire knife dancing, which is a ceremonial Samoan dance where performers will twirl a machete engulfed with flames while doing acrobatic stunts. Fire knife dancing is a commonly practiced dance in Hawaii and according to his Aunt Shelley, Troy became very good at it, and even had the opportunity to perform the dance during Pro Bowl weekend in January of 2005.
However, the one Samoan principle that Polamalu may have valued the most during his football career is called Fa’a Somoa which means “act like a gentleman off the field and a warrior on it.” Polamalu was gifted athletically, and in his sophomore year of college, USC head coach Pete Carroll took advantage of his skillset. “We thought of him everywhere we could and gave him special freedoms we didn’t give other players. He has great savvy instinct and takes advantage of it. You can see him go and make plays that some guys just don’t even think about making.” Carroll tailored his defense around Polamalu, allowing him to break his coverage and make a quick breakon the football, resulting in incompletions or sometimes even interceptions. Polamalu finished his USC career with 278 tackles, six interceptions, three touchdowns, and four blocked punts. He credited his college success to Pete Carroll and the way he built the defense around him, which is a strategy that Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau took full advantage of.
In Polamalu’s second season as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, they drafted quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and hired the aforementioned LeBeau to be their defensive coordinator. After his rookie season, LeBeau decided to capitalize on his skillset and create the defense around Polamalu, just as Carroll did at USC. In LeBeau’s defense, Polamalu had the opportunity to roam the field and make plays on the football like his days at USC. Feeling comfortable early in his NFL career, Polamalu made extraordinary plays throughout it, such as diving over the line of scrimmage to sack the quarterback and catching interceptions by his fingertips in the bitter cold of the Pennsylvania night.
On a cold Pittsburgh night in 2009, with everything to play for in the AFC Championship game, Dick LeBeau’s scheme was put to the test against a high-powered Baltimore Ravens offense. Late in the game with his team leading by just two, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco made a throw towards the right side of the field, but Polamalu read the pass perfectly and made the interception. Instead of falling to the ground, the Hall of Famer cut back across the field and ran behind blockers all the way to the end zone, essentially ending the game and sending the Steelers to Super Bowl 43. While Polamalu had so many great plays, that interception may have been the most important play of his career. Each Steeler Raven game was always highly contested, but with the stakes this high, the man to make the play of the game had to be the legendary Polamalu. NFL broadcaster Jim Nantz said, “Super Bowl 43, the Steelers might be bound to that because of number 43.” “To me, the Flacco pick was the most memorable play of Troy’s career, because of the gravity of the moment and the physical feel that the moment provided us.” “The ground was shaking. The stadium was shaking,” said Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin.
The connection between the genius of LeBeau’s defense and the game-wrecking ability of Troy Polamalu led the Steelers to have the one of the best defenses of the 2000s.With Polamalu and company on defense, the Steelers won two Super Bowls and had some of the most iconic plays in NFL history. James Harrison’s 100-yard pick-6 in Super Bowl 43 headlined Pittsburgh’s heroic run of elite defenses. “If I make a play, we all make a play.” This served as the defense’s motto that helped them win two Super Bowl championships in three seasons.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to read the biography “Polamalu”, I encourage you to do so. This book gives you the opportunity to learn more about the life of Troy Polamalu, one of the greatest safeties in NFL history.
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