Troy Polamalu was not happy with the way things ended for him with the Steelers back in the 2015 offseason.
But that’s not why he has stayed away from Pittsburgh.
No, Polamalu wanted a clean break from football, something that should really surprise no one who ever dealt with the former Steelers star safety.
“One thing that I always felt the need to do, because ... players truly become dependent on the NFL, one of the things that was important to me was that I didn’t want to identify myself as a football player,” Polamalu told me last Saturday night in Miami after learning he had been voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“If I lost the game then I would lose my identity. Part of that was just letting go and moving on to the next phase of life. So, as soon as I was done with football, I was like, ‘I’ve got to go and get educated.’ But I knew I was going to have issues that I hear about with the transition. I got in a tech company, a startup football league, because it was all a good education.
“It was part of just a growing period for me, a maturity process for me that I really just had to draw a line,” he continued. “What I didn’t want to do was to always have to come back, and be like, ‘OK, I feel like myself again. Finally, I’m at home again.’ So, yeah. That was it.”
Polamalu has always marched to the beat of his own drummer. He didn’t play football for the money. Or the fame. Or any of the other trappings involved with playing the game.
He played it because he loved the game. And once that was gone, he was moving on to the next chapter of his life.
Look for Polamalu to be around a little more often now that he’ll be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He seems at peace with life after football. He recognizes being voted into the Hall of Fame is a big deal.
But don’t expect him back in Pittsburgh all the time. It’s just not his style.
Kind of like being a team captain in 2014, his final season with the Steelers, didn’t sit well with him.
“The 12th year for me was a really rough year,” Polamalu said. “I really felt the burden of what a team captain had to do. What it felt like at the time was that the culture was shifting so badly. I had to really step outside of myself to say, ‘Guys, this sucks. Our attitude sucks. People are selfish. We need to change this.’”
As we now know, it didn’t change. Antonio Brown’s selfishness took over the locker room. And it lingered there for the next four seasons. Brown wasn’t alone in that attitude. But he’s most certainly the best – or worst – representative of it.
That’s why jettisoning Brown last offseason set in motion a change in the team’s locker room that was apparent in 2019. Even Polamalu could see it from afar.
“I think so,” he said. “Given the way the defense stepped up later in the season. Given the way they won close games. It will be exciting to see once everyone gets healthy, to see how that can carry on. That, to me, is everything.
“I thought they lacked some things when they first came in, my first interaction with some of my teammates was not good. I knew why they were not winning Super Bowls. That is what I was thinking internally. So, yeah, that culture has shifted.”
That’s a step in the right direction, just like Polamalu being around more often will be for the franchise.
Here’s hoping he doesn’t take the Jack Lambert approach to this and never return. That’s no knock on Lambert, at all. It’s his right to live his life how he wants.
But Polamalu has such a unique perspective on life that it would be a shame if he is not around more often to share it.
- The Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl, but they had to work hard to get there.
And they simply wore down the San Francisco defense, running 75 plays compared to 54 for San Francisco.
That happened quite a bit to the Steelers on defense this season.
But the blueprint to having a chance to beat the Chiefs is there. Rush the passer with four players and cover on the back end.
The Steelers can do both of those, which is why they are one of the favorites from the AFC to win next year’s Super Bowl – despite the uncertainty surrounding the status of Ben Roethlisberger.
Roethlisberger met with team doctors last week to begin formulating a rehab plan and will get the final OK in another two weeks to begin its implementation.