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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Polamalu is Steeler football

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

TAMPA -- There was a time when you didn't want anything to do with Pittsburgh. Back in the '50s, '60s and '70s, when the steel mills burned the coal that painted the city black.
By Mark Spector
SPORTSNET.CA

It was a dark and dirty place. A blood 'n' guts town with a hard hat and an even harder heart.Steeltown is more than just smelters and belching smoke stacks now. A citizenry has taken its town back from the grime, and you can see the difference between the buildings that have had the black film blasted off of their sides, and the odd one that has not.They have diversified and modernized industries, and Pittsburgh has a cool vibe now. But still, safety Troy Polamalu was saying on Tuesday, "The Steelers give Pittsburgh a lot of hope." "Pittsburgh has provided for this country. It's been built on the back of blue-collar cities like Pittsburgh, and the Steelers represent that," said the Samoan Samson, who claims his hair has not seen a pair of scissors in seven years. "Pittsburgh is unique in the sense that the team takes on the personality of the city. We're blue collar."When the Steelers lose on a Sunday, on Monday the gloom hangs like the old coal dust once did. "The depression is so thick you can swallow it," Polamalu said.So, in a town that has gone a long way to changing its image, there resides a football team that is still cemented in it. And they are loving that, by the way, here in Tampa, as the Pittsburgh Steelers play their history card again and again, knowing that it is a play Arizona simply has no answer for."You know, guys come in and names change, but the physical game stays the same," Polamalu continued Wednesday. "We have a reputation to uphold, you know, from the Pittsburgh Steelers before we were all born. In the '20s and '30s."There are a select few teams in the world of sport that have the kind of identity the Steelers have forged. The Oakland Raiders have their shtick, but being the meanest guy on the block doesn't mean much when you're winning just four games a year.The Montreal Canadiens played the game back in the '70s with a style and flare that embodied the feel of that city. And if the team was a metaphor for the city, then Guy Lafleur's hair was a metaphor for the flowing style the Habs coined.The Los Angeles Dodgers have, over the many, many years, become a franchise that just wouldn't look right without an All-Star catcher behind the plate. And when they win, it seems like that catcher -- from Roy Campanella to Russell Martin -- is handling a pitching staff that paves the way to whatever success the Dodgers find.And so it is that the Steelers aim to become the only team in National Football League history to win six Super Bowls. As is always the case when the Steelers thrive, theirs is the best defence in the league this season.Did Pittsburgh become this team because defence wins championships? Or was that football cliché coined because of past champions in gold and black?"I didn't really watch football growing up," Polamalu said. "I learned about the Steel Curtain, the safeties before me ... You learn it through experience -- it's not talked about in our facility or our locker room. That's what's beautiful about this tradition: nothing is handed down verbally, but it's something you see and you want to be part of."One of head coach Mike Tomlin's early coaching gigs was as a graduate assistant at the University of Memphis, an environment he credits with shaping his take on how to play defence. "(That team was) intent on beating you up when you came into the stadium. That was their mentality."Today, he finds himself in the right town to ply that ideal, on a team where Polamalu has become -- in the brilliant schemes of 71-year-old coordinator Dick Lebeau's defence -- a do-everything, be-everywhere component who goes unmatched by Arizona into Sunday's game.Nobody else has a safety who can run down a quarterback for a sack off the blitz, go overtop the line to meet the ball carrier in the backfield on short yardage, and spy a quarterback from deep safety and on the next play make the pick and run it back like a return specialist.He is part linebacker, part coverage man, part rush-end, and Polamalu isn't even the best defender on his unit. Linebacker James Harrison was named Defensive Player of the Year in the NFL this season.And fellow safety Ryan Clark is known as the hardest hitter in the secondary.It's why they are seven-point favourites over Arizona, and the reason that ol' cliché will get put to the test on Sunday.If defence truly does win championships, then Arizona might be a longer shot than Las Vegas thinks.

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