DALLAS – Troy Polamalu was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year on Monday night, but, when informed of the honor, his reaction to this once-in-a-lifetime achievement was a bit, ah, different
“I felt nothing,” said Polamalu.
He explained. “I think it means a lot more to my teammates because it takes so much to make plays in this defense, in this game, and there are too many parts to really focus on just one person,” he said.
The response actually isn’t all that different from his response to winning the team’s MVP award last month, or to winning the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award for his charity work the same day, or to winning anything else he’s won in Pittsburgh since being drafted in 2003.
To those closest to him, Polamalu’s humility is his most defining characteristic – even more so than his hair.
“I was sitting downstairs in the restaurant yesterday,” said free safety Ryan Clark. “I saw it go across the screen that he won. I called him, and like most superstars he doesn’t really answer his phone very much, so I texted him. I just said, ‘Congrats, man, you deserve it. I love you.’ And he was like, ‘Well, that’s our award so let’s go try to win this trophy.’
“I think that is the most amazing thing about him. He can do all these great things on the field and you’ll never hear him talk about it. That is not what he’s concerned with, winning individual awards. He is about team. It’s great to be around a player like that with such humility, with no ego.”
Polamalu, the Steelers’ strong safety, edged Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Clay Mathews 17-15 in the Associated Press voting, even though Polamalu was limited by an Achilles’ tendon injury throughout the second half of the season and finished with only 63 tackles, the sixth-best of his 8-year career. The only lower totals were in his rookie season (0 starts) and his injury-ravaged 2009 season (5 starts).
Polamalu did intercept 7 passes in his 14 games this season, and he turned around a handful of games with late heroics, most significantly the sack/forced-fumble in the second game against the Baltimore Ravens.
But Polamalu provides much more than statistics for the Steelers. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau was asked Tuesday how he manages to disguise his defenses so well and LeBeau said, “That’s easy. You just get Troy Polamalu in your backfield.”
LeBeau called Polamalu “probably the most instinctive player I’ve ever had. He has the amazing capability of studying film and being able to instantly apply that in the game situation. A lot of guys can get down to tendencies, formation, motion, but when it comes to pulling the trigger, they do OK. Troy is exceptional. That’s why he makes so many big plays.”
LeBeau was asked how he would describe Polamalu to a stranger.
“I think I would describe him as the epitome of a competitor who prepares mentally and physically,” LeBeau said. “He has the demeanor of a warrior. All of the things that they write the books about, they are embodied in Troy. He was born to play professional football and he’s one of the best I’ve ever seen.”