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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

TAMPA, Fla. — Troy Polamalu has an air of greatness and hair of greatness.

He is the NFL's Mane Man and my favorite player in football. At USC, he was one of the Men of Troy. He is the Troy of men with Pittsburgh. The Broncos could use a few on defense.

Tony Steele was the most famous trapeze artist in circus history. Steel Troy has become the most eminent trapeze artist in football. Polamalu is the high-flyin', death-defyin', receiver-denyin', Flowin' Samoan Steelers strong safety.

Give me down to there hair.

Polamalu could star in the musical "Hair." He will star in the Super Bowl, so there.

"I don't ever think about being the MVP (in the Super Bowl). I think about all of us doing our jobs on defense, and if we do, we can help win the game," he said Monday afternoon.

His tresses were tied tightly. His stresses were not wound tightly.

"This is the end of the road, where you want to be, what you play for all year, the Super Bowl," said Polamalu, who arrived with the Steelers in Tampa to prepare for Sunday's game against the Cardinals.

Polamalu speaks so softly you would think somebody pushed the mute button on his TV remote control. He doesn't carry a big schtick. He's genuine as a natural pearl. He's nice as your favorite elementary-school teacher, as much a family man as George Bailey. It's a wonderful life.

Before a big game, he's not excitable.

"Sometimes I feel like napping on the sidelines," Polamalu told me Monday. "Sometimes when I'm playing, it looks like I've been napping."

You want guys in the Super Bowl who are braggers and blowhards, guys who will hang out at strip clubs in Tampa, guys who have been in trouble and will tell you all about "me"? Troy Polamalu is not your guy. He doesn't care for interviews.

How about this controversial statement: "I think my wife and kids (a new baby) will enjoy the good weather here."

Then he talks about his counterpart — Arizona's Adrian Wilson, another all-pro.

"I study films in the offseason of the best strong safeties, and I try to take a lot from a player like (Wilson). He's such a good blitzer, a tough run defender. He's faster than me, really strong, smart, always knows where to be. I'm very impressed."

Polamalu can play a little too. He recently was named, in his sixth season, to his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl. He had a career-high seven interceptions this season.

And with 4:39 remaining in the AFC championship game, Polamalu's 40-yard interception return for a touchdown sealed the deal, 23-14, for Pittsburgh over Baltimore.

"My responsibility on the play is the running back releasing (out of the backfield). I'm thinking that with James (Harrison, Pro Bowl linebacker), blitzing, the running back has to stay in to block. And when he (running back) doesn't release and it's not a run, I'm kind of free to drift back and see what happens. And I got lucky and got the pick."

Sure, just as he was lucky with the other 17 interceptions in his career.

Polamalu is a hitter — like an anvil — even at 5-feet-10, 207 pounds.

"The old days of the 6-5, 250-pound strong safety are over," he said.

But the days of former Steelers linebacker Jack Lambert are not over in Polamalu's mind. Lambert won four Super Bowl championships; Polamalu one, in 2005. The Steelers could become the first team with six Lombardi Trophies.

"Making history is not what this team is about. The Cardinals can make history too," Polamalu said. "But there's a special fraternity with the Steelers I'm proud to be a part of. I've played with a Steelers' player who was a teammate of a teammate of a player who was Lambert's roommate. The tradition, the way to play the game, has been passed down."

Polamalu also is in a distinctive group of pro players with a Samoan heritage. Samoa, a chain of five volcanic rock islands 2,500 miles south of Hawaii, sent its first player to the NFL in World War II. Since then, dozens of talented college and professional players trace their lineage to the South Pacific.

Polamalu was born in Garden Grove, Calif., as Troy Aumua, but his mother, Suila Polamalu, raised her five children alone. All four of his siblings spent time in jail. Troy was fearful of the gangs and the drugs, and when his mother took him on a trip to Tenmile, Ore., to see relatives, the son begged her to let him remain behind.

Eventually, Suila returned to her native Samoa, and Polamalu was "raised by a community of relatives." Several played football. He became the best. At Southern Cal, Polamalu was an All-American, and the Steelers traded two draft choices so they could grab him 16th overall in 2003.

Polamalu, who once visited his mother's homeland's and officially changed his name to honor her, understands his role on and off the field.

"There's a duty among all from different cultures, especially for pro athletes who are in the limelight, to be a good influence for young people. I try to be."

His air and his hair, and his football skill, are uniquely rare.

Woody Paige: 303-954-1295 or

Troy Polamalu

Position: Strong safety

Size: 5-feet-10, 207 pounds

Age: 27

College: Southern California

Career highlights


• Though not a starter, he appeared in all 16 regular-season games and led Pittsburgh special teams with 25 tackles (14 solo).


• Named to his first Pro Bowl.

• Led Steelers with five interceptions and tied for second with 97 tackles (66 solo).


• Finished the regular season with a personal-best 100 tackles, earning him a second trip to the Pro Bowl and his first start.

• First-team all-pro selection.


• Finished the regular season third on the team with 82 tackles.

• Made his second consecutive start in his third Pro Bowl.


• Tied for second on the team with a career-high three forced fumbles.

• Selected to the Pro Bowl a fourth straight year.


• Named to fifth Pro Bowl after a career- high seven interceptions (one more than the entire Broncos' defense) during the regular season, finishing tied for second in the league.

• Helped seal the AFC championship game win by returning an interception 40 yards for a touchdown against Baltimore.

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