Canton, Ohio – Troy Polamalu’s speech was the most improbable of Saturday’s Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony. This was not in any way due to there being any question of his qualifications or candidacy, but because he took the stage less than two weeks from being diagnosed with COVID-19. After surprising everyone at that morning’s parade and it being announced he had now tested negative and would be able to deliver his speech in person.
Polamalu, who became the 80th player to be elected in his first year of eligibility, almost immediately burst into tears hearing the loud ovation from Steelers fans at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium. After giving a big hug to his his friend, presenter, former coach and fellow Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau, he then opened his speech by saying, “I love football” before getting philosophical and explaining how football challenged him both physically and mentally. He made it known that his burning desire for the game helped shape him to be the man he eventually became.
Polamalu recognized his former teammates Hines Ward and Jerome Bettis by name. The newly crowned Hall of Famer loudly proclaimed he hopes to share the Canton stage with Ward, whose candidacy has become a topic of debate over the years, one day. Polamalu also told a story of collusion he had with Ward during practice early in his career that he says caused his knees to buckle. The legendary safety mentioned Bettis by saying he wished the Hall of Fame running back, who is battling a positive COVID-19 diagnosis of his own, could be here with him in Canton on this day.
But it was not only his former teammates who Polamalu made a point to recognize. He also explained how the tutelage of “Mean” Joe Greene motivated him. Polamalu said that he played wanting the acceptance of the great Steelers players of the past like Greene. He said hearing “you could have played with us” from the Steel Curtain era legends served as one of the best compliments he ever received.
Polamalu also made note of his heritage during his speech, something that includes some major history with his induction by being only the third player of Polynesian descent to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
After recognizing all of the Hall of Fame caliber coaches he was fortunate to play for like Bill Cowher, Mike Tomlin and Pete Carroll in college at USC, Polamalu closed his speech by saying “I was destined to stand before you.”
Polamalu played 12 seasons for the Steelers from 2003-14 after being a first-round draft pick out of USC in 2003, winning two Super Bowls. He made eight Pro Bowls, was selected four times as a first-team All-Pro, received second-team All-Pro honors twice and was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2010.
Selected as a member of the NFL’s 2000s all-decade team and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ all-time team, the Pro Football Hall of Fame is not the only Hall of Fame Polamalu is immortalized as a member of. He was also inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2019. He finished his NFL career by playing in 158 games while recording 770 tackles, 12 sacks, 32 interceptions, 14 forced fumbles and scored three touchdowns.
Polamalu’s legacy will forever be clear, one that widely recognizes him as one of the best safeties, maybe the best to some, to ever play the sport of football.