Q&A: Troy Polamalu

Troy Polamalu sat down for an extensive interview with SCI.net's Jim Wexell. Read what the ever-interesting Polamalu had to say about the past, present and future.

Troy Polamalu, strong safety, Pittsburgh Steelers

Q: So, how did you spend your summer vacation?

A: Actually it wasn't much. I spent most of it training, quite honestly. I usually try to spend most of it surfing or cross-training, doing some other stuff that's fun, but I felt this year is so important I really wanted to make sure I did everything I could to prepare for this year.

Q: Why is this year so important?

A: Because last year I pretty much missed the whole year. It's not fun to sit there and watch, especially with the success we had last year, or the lack of it.

Q: So you went about the training harder this year?

A: I wouldn't say harder but it was more of a focus for sure. I didn't do any more extracurricular stuff, so I was more focused. I wouldn't go play basketball as much, I wouldn't go surfing as much, just so I could make sure I maintained my health correctly.

Q: You're starting to sound like me: getting old. Do you feel the aging process at this point?

A: I could say that, yeah, the soreness is lasting a lot longer, but I wouldn't say I'm feeling older at all. I'm not even 30 yet, so I don't think I could even use that as an excuse.

Q: Well, you're maturing. Having a child will do that, won't it?

A: Yeah, for sure. But, when you talk about somebody maturing, you talk about somebody mentally being able to adapt to things better than you did before. I think as of right now, right at this point in my career, it's kind of becoming more of a mesh of athleticism and your mind catching up with you. Obviously later in your career it's all brain, you know what I mean? It's all your mind and all the filtering of the game. Whereas early in your career it's all athleticism, and I think right now it's a perfect mix of both.

Q: Is that what they mean by the prime years being 28 and 29?

A: Probably. So I'd really like to seize this opportunity, for sure.

Q: Tell me about fatherhood. How has it affected you?

A: You know, obviously I think any parent would say it's the greatest thing, but now I'm really understanding of what makes it so great. I mean, before it was, oh man, you have something in your life that's so precious, so fragile. But now my son's getting old. He hears music. He's dancing. It's really becoming a fun relationship with him. Like my wife sending me videos. That's what's great, I guess, about today's technology: I can actually talk and see video on the phone with her and see my son making faces at me, actually saying words to me, like saying ‘da-da' and pointing at the phone. It's pretty interesting. It's a true blessing, for sure.

Q: You've given the impression that you don't use technology. Obviously you haven't ignored it completely, have you?

A: No. I've been trying to get rid of my phone and all these things for so long, but my wife says I have to keep it for us.

Q: You've always had a maturity and a wisdom anyhow, but do you find yourself learning by teaching your child?

A: I wouldn't say so. In one sense we're kind of learning things together. He's learning boyhood, or toddler-hood, and I'm learning how to be a father. So in that sense we're learning together. I don't think there's any book written in a sense that you can just really follow every guideline to say this is how to be a perfect father. But there are great examples in my life of people who've raised me, my uncles, some friend's uncles, people like Coach LeBeau, and if you can take all these different and great things from all these great father figures and try to instill them in your son I think he'd be all right.

Q: You brought up Dick LeBeau. This must be really exciting for you in regard to him?

A: Coach LeBeau, yeah, this is going to be really awesome. You know what's funny? He never had missed a practice, which is crazy to me. He never missed a practice. Obviously he never missed a game, and this is going to be the first time he's ever missed a practice. Friday he's going to miss a practice. What better blessing from God? It just says, all right, here's your first real opportunity to miss practice.

Q: Shouldn't he have to run a symbolic lap as penance?

A: (Laughs). I said we can all miss with you. If you're going to miss us that much, we can all miss with you.

Q: Is the team planning a tribute, such as wearing a jersey?

A: No, I don't think so.

Q: I've read where you've described this offseason as the longest offseason. It started after that terrific first quarter you played. Is that what you meant, because of the injury?

A: Yeah. I didn't play a game until Cincinnati, which was like Week 6 or 7. Yeah, it was long, but honestly I learned so much more by not playing than I did playing last year -- first and foremost as a human being, how to appreciate things, how to appreciate each opportunity of the health that we have, and not to take things for granted. You know, I'd learned it here and there, and I may have to re-learn this lesson again, but missing that much time and watching your brothers go through that type of season is pretty tough, and not really contributing the best that I can contribute. I mean, I could try to coach them or help them study film, but that's not what I do best. My best thing is to be on the field with them. The other thing, as a football player I was able to see the game from a different level. For one, it's amazing to me: I'll see somebody like Larry Fitzgerald or I'll see a game on film and I just kind of amaze myself because I'm like, ‘How in the world do I ever go out there and play this game? These collisions are so hard.' For one, you kind of respect the game in that way. For another, though, you see from a coach's perspective how offenses attack and you see the chess match much better because I'm seeing the game plan, I'm thinking about calls and different things like that, what we could've done better or why Coach LeBeau called a particular call. I don't know. Learning from that perspective is an awesome experience, too.

Q: Rashard Mendenhall told me during the Super Bowl, right before the game in the tunnel, where he was in streetclothes because of his injury. He told me that you walked up to him and told him not to be down, that he'd be back in this game next year. He said he took that into the offseason and it really helped him get ready for last season. Did you ever have a moment like that, when someone inspired you?

A: To me, I would say probably the biggest dramatic – traumatic – experience to me was my rookie year. I didn't fit into the team at first. The team had a much different personality my rookie year than it does now. But I didn't really fit into the team, for one. Two, I replaced a veteran [Lee Flowers] who had been here a long time. And most importantly, I didn't have a very good rookie year. Then, I used to like read papers and stuff like that. I remember it might've been like Week 4 or something like that. We had the paper and I picked it up and it was calling me a draft bust, or something like that. Some guy named like Jim Wexell wrote it. (Laughs).

Q: Really?

A: No. (Laughs).

Q: I've written some dumb things. That's very possible.

A: No. But all I saw was ‘draft bust' and I remember we just canceled the newspaper, like ‘forget it, no more newspapers.' And then later on in the season, it might've been like Week 12, and Mr. Rooney walks up to me and says, ‘Troy, don't worry' – this is like way later – he says, ‘Don't worry about what's written in those newspapers, you're doing fine.' But I thought, ‘Oh great, what are they saying now?' That offseason for me, I went directly to California with my trainer and I literally was on chicken breast, broccoli and olive oil all summer long. There was nothing that was swaying me. My wife and I would go to concerts and we would leave concerts early, you know what I mean? It was like, ‘OK, got to get rest to train in the morning.' So I would say that whole experience really was important. While at first I was contemplating ‘Man, is this really for me? What is this game about?' Then I just told myself I was going to give it everything I had. I approached my whole offseason in that way. Thank God I'm still here now.

Q: So was it me or was it Mr. Rooney who inspired you the most?

A: (Laughs).

Q: No, was it the media saying things that inspired you? Or Mr. Rooney?

A: No, I guess it was the first time in my life that I doubted myself. It didn't really need me to say ‘all these people' because my teammates were as much a part of that experience as the public. Even the people in the public were calling me a bust, you know what I mean? That's why I know how fickle fans can be. That was all coming from the exterior part of it, but the internal part of it was me. I knew I wasn't very good and I started to doubt myself and I kind of gave myself the chance to give it everything I could and approach the offseason that whole next year by giving it everything I could possibly give it.

Q: Are you comparing this offseason to that offseason?

A: No, I don't think you can really compare anything to that because they're in two totally different parts of my career and two totally different mindsets. But honestly, every offseason I do try to get into that mind frame of what I did that year and really approach it with that type of hunger.

Q: Well, what are you seeing this year from your team? What's your sense of how good this team is or can be?

A: I've said many times in team meetings before that this is the year the team wins the Super Bowl, and we didn't even make the playoffs. I remember talking with Ike [Taylor] several times and saying, ‘Dude, we're going to suck this year,' and we'd win the Super Bowl. You can never tell. That's one thing that whenever I do watch TV and people are saying these teams are going to finish in first place, second place, third place, that to me is the most ridiculous thing, because as a player who has some sort of impact on the team, I have no idea and nobody on our team has no idea of how good our team's going to be. But we here just have the mentality that we're going to give it everything we have, we're going to buy into the system, and wherever the cards land, they land.