Troy Polamalu called Dan Rooney last night to inform him he was retiring from football.
The Steelers had asked Polamalu to retire in February, but he resisted until the realization came upon him in church this week, the Holy Week of the Greek Orthodox Church.
“It’s all about family,” said Polamalu in a phone interview. “I live here in Pittsburgh now, and since the end of the season I’ve had a chance to enjoy my family on a level I never had before. It was awesome.”
Polamalu retires after 12 seasons, in which the eight-time Pro Bowler and four-time first-team All-Pro played in 158 regular-season games, 15 playoff games and three Super Bowls. In those games, the Steelers’ strong safety made 710 tackles, intercepted 35 passes, forced 13 fumbles, recovered seven fumbles, scored four touchdowns and won two championships.
In his prime, No. 43 was one of the greatest to ever play the game.
Last season, Polamalu started nine games and made 49 tackles before an injury resulted in a sprained knee ligament and forced him to miss four of the final seven games. He returned for the playoffs and made eight tackles in the loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
The freakish nature of the injury, in which a runner pinballed off another player and into the back of Polamalu’s leg, gave him reason to believe he could continue playing and caused him to consider his options.
“I did not seriously consider playing elsewhere,” Polamalu said. “It was just whether or not I wanted to play. I had talked to a lot of people about what I should do with my situation, and what they kept saying back to me, and which was not a sufficient reason, was ‘Troy, you played 12 years in the NFL, you won Super Bowls, won individual awards. There’s nothing left to prove. You have a legacy.’ And I just kept saying, ‘First of all, I don’t care about a legacy. Second of all, I play the game because I enjoy it.’ That’s the reason to keep playing.
“Like I said, what it came down to was definitely family. If I’m in my fourth year, fifth year, even if I’m in my 10th year, I’m playing in Alaska. But when I started this process and started to debate whether I should come back or should I play, that was kind of the sign for me to say ‘Whoa, if you’re just even debating it maybe you shouldn’t play anymore,’ because what I do know about this game is it takes a lot –a lot – of commitment just to be an average player.”
Polamalu also came upon the realization that the numbers – age of 33 and 12 years service – agreed with him.
“Thirty-three is obviously significant because of Christ being 33; and 12 years, 12 apostles,” he said. “I’m not superstitious by any means but I always thought that if I played 12 years and retire from football at 33 and give my life and give my body and give my blood to this game, I think that would be a pretty significant landmark in my life.”
Polamalu said that his wife, Theodora, did not ask him to retire, and that “She was the most supportive person. I would ask her, ‘What do you want me to do? What should I do?’ And she would say, ‘Troy, I’m not here to tell you what you should do. I’m here to support you in whatever decision you want to make.’”
What will Polamalu do in retirement?
“Well, that’s the big question,” he said. “That also was part of the hesitation. What am I going to do now? I think the best I can do is make up for lost time, and that’s with my family. Thank God football has provided me the ability to be able to sit back and see what the options are. But I’ll definitely be the best father I can possibly be.”
Polamalu is the father of seven-year-old Paisios and five-year-old Ephram, boys who are often seen darting around the Heinz Field locker room and the training-camp fields at St. Vincent College.
“Maybe it was a sign for me to retire when I chase my kids around and couldn’t catch them,” Polamalu said with a laugh. “It was either a sign for me to retire or a sign for them to begin training.”
Polamalu does see good possibilities ahead for the Steelers.
“Part of the reason I wanted to come back was they’re talented, they’re really talented,” he said. “I think it’s an exciting time to be a Steeler, but, man, there have been years where I thought we weren’t going to be very good and we were great, and there were years that I thought we were going to be great and we weren’t very good. You just never know.
“I do know one thing is that talent doesn’t win Super Bowls. There’s got to be another component there. The personality of a team changes from year to year. I do think the team next year can be really successful. How successful, only time will tell.”
The personality of this team will certainly change without Polamalu, who may have been a bigger factor throughout his career in the locker room and team meetings than on the field. But time marches on for everyone, and Polamalu was struck by that notion on Thursday.
“It’s our Holy Week this week. Our Easter is on Sunday,” he said. “I’ve been in church and had a lot of time to contemplate. It actually hit me today in church that, ‘Man, you know what? You’re done. You’re done. Your training is done. Your getting in your stance in football is done.’ It actually hit me in the middle of church. I was like, all right, man, it’s time to start living. Because I’ve been living the dream.”