Football fans know his name. They know his game. Equally important, they know his hair.
Troy Polamalu was a household name around the NFL for more than a decade. He spent 12 seasons in the league, all of them with the Pittsburgh Steelers, during which time he developed a reputation as one of the most effective defensive backs alive.
This all begs the question: Where does he rank on the Steelers’ list of all-time greats?
Answering with “pretty high” is fitting. But it’s interesting to consider just how high.
Polamalu racked up 583 solo tackles and 32 interceptions over the course of his career. With him in the secondary, the Steelers routinely fielded one of the NFL’s most feared defenses. He won the ultimate honor for someone on the less glamorous side of the ball in 2010, when he snagged the league’s Defensive Player of the Year.
For nearly a half-decade, Polamalu cracked the NFL’s top-100 list. That’s not easy to do as a defensive back. Those exercises typically favor quarterbacks, running backs and receivers. Polamalu, though, ranked as high as No. 6, a spot he earned in 2011.
Looking back, he essentially reinvented the safety position. So many of today’s versatile standouts owe their job description to Polamalu. He was a trail-blazer for those who didn’t want to be considered niche defenders in any specific packages. He was an every-down guy in the secondary at a time when those weren’t all that common.
Pinpointing where he ranks in Steelers lore isn’t exactly easy. The franchise has a rich history of immensely talented players. It makes most sense to start with those who we know rank in front of him.
That list is short: Joe Greene, Mel Blount and Jack Lambert are the only ones worth including. From there, you could also put Polamalu behind guys like Franco Harris, Ben Roethlisberger, Terry Bradshaw, Antonio Brown, Jack Ham and Donnie Shell. There are arguments to be had across the board here, many of which will end with split hairs.
Then again, Polamalu’s staying power has to matter. He didn’t just reimagine the functionality of the safety position. He stuck around for 12 years in a league where the average career span is less than four seasons.
So let’s call a spade a spade: Troy Polamalu is one of the five best players to ever suit up for Steelers.