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Sunday, February 01, 2009

Bickley: Wilson, Polamalu take safe out of 'safety'

by Dan Bickley - Jan. 31, 2009 06:14 PM
The Arizona Republic
TAMPA - Adrian Wilson and Troy Polamalu share a passion and a position. They take the safe out of safety. Both men speak softly. Polamalu is quiet and humble, and at press conferences, you have to strain to hear him. Wilson is stoic and gruff, a man who scoffs at words. They will lead their respective defenses into Super Bowl XLIII, and will do so by example.

The Steelers' Polamalu is a Tasmanian devil of a player. His instincts are flawless. He is only 5-foot-10, but plays like a giant, especially in big moments. He plays like a pinball bouncing and crashing inside a machine. His flowing hair is always trailing the play, and is the new symbol of the Steel Curtain.

"I play football with a passion," Polamalu said. "If it was ballet, I would do the same thing."

The Cardinals' Wilson is a freak. His athleticism is unparalleled. He once jumped over a bar 66 inches off the ground, a feat so spectacular that it's drawn 6.2 million hits on Youtube.com. His bursts of speed are also legendary, and he occasionally blows up a quarterback without remorse.

Wilson has a bit of a reputation in the league's offices. He has paid a lot of fines in his career. He is also a physical marvel, a sculpted specimen of speed and muscle. Steelers' defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau called Wilson one of the game's great "thumpers."

But Polamalu has a kamikaze style that makes ball carriers just as nervous.

"Yeah, it's very dangerous," Polamalu said. "Big hits have been part of this game from the very beginning of football. And quite honestly, it's what has driven this game. It's what fans are attracted to, and it's what people make money off of."

In the subset of safeties, few are better. Baltimore's Ed Reed is the gold standard for ball-hawking safeties, a man with sticky hands and a knack for the end zone. Polamalu and Wilson play a different game. They wreak havoc around the line of scrimmage. They perform like linebackers. And they know each other well.

Polamalu on Wilson: "Every year, after every season, I always take guys like (the Colts') Bob Sanders, Ed Reed, (the Patriots') Rodney Harrison, I've always broken down all of their film and kind of made a highlight film of all of them. Adrian Wilson was also a player who I've done as well. Adrian Wilson is obviously the top the way he blitzes, the way he plays run support, and his sheer athleticism is pretty amazing."

Wilson on Polamalu: "He's all over the place. He knows his responsibilities. He knows what he's supposed to do. He's always in the right place at the right time."

Polamalu has already reached elite status. He is a superhero to Samoan and Polynesian youngsters, and he just filmed a sequel to Mean Joe Greene's famous 1979 Coke commercial. He won Hairstyle of the Year at last year's media day. He's become one of the NFL's iconic figures.

Wilson is still climbing. Intensely ambitious, he is coming off his second Pro Bowl season. He just learned his wife is pregnant. A Super Bowl victory could be the pinnacle of a great season, the moment he truly arrives.

"It's been a long time coming for the Cardinals," Wilson said. "And for our core group of players, the No. 1 goal is to change the persona of the Arizona Cardinals. We have a great opportunity to do that."

Polamalu's Steelers are just the opposite. A win would bring ring No. 6. A win would make them the No. 1 team of the Super Bowl era.

"The Super Bowl is very special," Polamalu said. "You kind of realize you're at the end of the road here. There are no games left but this one. It's kind of indescribable, really, how excited you get for this game."

Especially for these two maniacal players, two men linked by one position and one goal. Come kickoff, you don't want to be standing in their way.

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