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Changing of the Guard: Troy Polamalu Says It’s Up to ‘Next Generation’ to Take On Steelers Community Leadership

Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu is doing his part as the next generation of Steelers legends steps into more prominent community roles.

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Pittsburgh Steelers Troy Polamalu
Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame safety Troy Polamalu at SteelHERS female fans celebration in the Great Hall at Acrsiure Stadium on May 22, 2024. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

PITTSBURGH — For most of the first 10 years after he retired from the Pittsburgh Steelers and the National Football League, Troy Polamalu kept a fairly low profile. 

Sure, there were Head and Shoulders commercials, but compared to other players of his ability and star power, who frequently transition directly into careers in media or coaching. In a world where everyone who is anyone has had a podcast, Polamalu has quietly been raising his family in California.

Part of that is probably due to his quiet nature, but there were also reportedly bad feelings between Polamalu and the team about the way that his playing career ended in 2014. Polamalu wanted to keep playing. The Steelers reportedly threatened to release him. He decided to call it a career instead of joining his former defensive coordinator, Dick LeBeau, on the Tennessee Titans.

That frostiness started to thaw in 2020, when Polamalu was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In 2021, he returned to Pittsburgh for the first time since the end of his playing career. He accepted his Hall of Fame ring, attended alumni functions, and was feted by the crowd at Heinz Field.

Pittsburgh Steelers SS Troy Polamalu

Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame safety Troy Polamalu at Acrisure Stadium on Oct. 17, 2021. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

This year, Polamalu is back again, this time in the offseason. The 43-year-old came to Pittsburgh this time with a purpose, with his Resilience Bowl charity flag football fundraiser on Tuesday raising money for underserved communities, and his appearance at the team’s SteelHERS celebration of female fans on Wednesday night led to a packed crowd at the Coca Cola Great Hall.

Polamalu is never going to be as gregarious as some former NFL players. Don’t expect him to a have a Kelce Brothers-like podcast, get roasted like Tom Brady, or even to talk football on television like his former secondary partner, Ryan Clark.

But now 10 years removed from his playing career, Polamalu sees a responsibility to be an ambassador of the team in the community, and a link to the past for the current members of the squad.

“It’s probably a point in a lot of our lives, where the next generation starts taking on some of these roles,” Polamalu said. “Joe, Mel Blount, Franco, bless his memory, Lynn, all these guys, they always came back for us. They were always around the facility. We saw Mel Blount’s kids grow up in our facility. We’ve seen how it always starts to come full circle. But to be honest, it’s nothing that’s preached about in our organization. It just kind of naturally manifests itself.”

This year, when the Steelers drafted offensive tackle Troy Fautanu out of the University of Washington, he said he had been introduced to the franchise as a young man by a love for Polamalu. 

“I wore 43 pretty much my whole life until I switched to offensive line and couldn’t wear it,” Fautanu said. “I know a lot about the team and a lot about their history.”

Polamalu reached out to the youngster on draft night, and said that he thinks it’s important that a new generation of Steelers players knows that he’s there for them if they need him.

“For the younger generation, for Troy, for Broderick [Jones], for any of these guys that were drafted or are currently playing, I keep in contact with,” Polamalu said. “You always want to let them know that you’re going to be loving and supporting them and that you’re a call away from them.

“But you also know that in the midst of the madness, how laser focused you are. So you just try your best to support everybody. That’s how Joe and Mel and Lynn and all these guys were toward us.”