Troy Polamalu

Troy Polamalu

refer to caption

Polamalu prior to Super Bowl XLV in 2011
No. 43
Position: Strong safety
Personal information
Date of birth: (1981-04-19) April 19, 1981
Place of birth: Garden Grove, California
Height: 5 ft 10 in (1.78 m)
Weight: 207 lb (94 kg)
Career information
High school: Winston (OR) Douglas
College: USC
NFL Draft: 2003 / Round: 1 / Pick: 16
Career history
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Tackles: 770
Sacks: 12.0
Interceptions: 32
Forced fumbles: 14
Touchdowns: 3
Player stats at
Player stats at PFR

Troy Aumua Polamalu (/ˌpləˈmɑːl/; born Troy Aumua on April 19, 1981) is a former American football strong safety of Samoan descent who played his entire twelve-year career for the Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League (NFL). He played college football for the University of Southern California (USC), and earned consensus All-American honors. He was chosen by the Steelers in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft. He was a member of two of the Steelers' Super Bowl championship teams, and was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2010.

Early years

Polamalu was born in Garden Grove, California. He is of Samoan descent. At age eight, he vacationed in Tenmile, Oregon, with an aunt and uncle for three weeks and afterwards begged his mother to let him live in Oregon.[1] He graduated from Douglas High School in Winston, Oregon. Despite playing in only four games during his senior season due to injury, he was named to the 1998 Super Prep All-Northwest team, Tacoma News Tribune Western 100, and the All-Far West League second team. A two-way player, Polamalu rushed for 671 yards with nine touchdowns and had three interceptions.

Following his junior season, Polamalu was named to the All-State first team and was the All-Far West League Offensive Most Valuable Player for Douglas High, which achieved a 9–1 record. He rushed for 1,040 yards with 22 touchdowns and had 310 receiving yards. On defense, he made 65 tackles and had eight interceptions.

In high school, Polamalu also played baseball and basketball, where he also received all-state and all-league honors.[2]

College career

Polamalu received an athletic scholarship to attend the University of Southern California, and played for the USC Trojans football team from 1999 to 2002. "I believe God named me Troy for a reason", he said (Troy was the ancient capital of the Trojans). "I was born to come here."[1]

Freshman season

Polamalu was offered a scholarship to play for the University of Southern California Trojans football team. He began his college career in 1999 as a true freshman, playing backup at safety and linebacker, while also contributing to special teams. While playing in 8 games, he recorded 12 tackles, 2 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. Against Louisiana Tech, he showed his effectiveness on special teams, blocking a punt. His freshman season was cut short when he suffered a concussion at practice. The injury sidelined him for four games.[3]

Sophomore season

2000 marked the beginning of Polamalu's career. He opened his season starting against Penn State, and recorded only 2 tackles but made an interception for a 43-yard touchdown. While playing against Colorado, he made 5 tackles and recovered a fumble that set up a Trojan touchdown. The next game he again recorded 5 tackles and also sacked Oregon State's quarterback. During a game against University of Oregon, he ended the game with 13 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss, and 1 interception. Then against Stanford, he made 11 tackles in the game. He set a career high with 14 tackles against Arizona State and tied that mark against Notre Dame. This marked his first year starting all 12 games at strong safety and he closed out 2000 with 83 tackles, 5 tackles for a loss, 1 sack, 2 interceptions, and 1 touchdown.[3]

Junior season

In 2001, he had the best year of his Trojans career. He started the season by being voted as the team captain, and in the season opener he recorded 7 tackles and 1 tackle for a loss against San Jose State. Against Kansas State, he had a game-high 13 tackles, 3 tackles for a loss, and 1 forced fumble. Polamalu continued his dominance against Stanford, making a game-high 10 stops, 1 tackle for a loss, and his first blocked punt of the season. In the next game against Washington he had a game-high 13 tackles, 2 for a loss, an interception that he returned for a 22-yard touchdown. Throughout the next four games, Polamalu continued to have the most tackles in each game. He had a streak of 6 games in a row and 8 total in the season where he led both teams in tackles. Against Oregon State, he accumulated a game-high 11 tackles, 2 for a loss, 2 pass deflections, 1 forced fumble, and a blocked punt that USC recovered. His streak ended against the University of California, when he had 4 tackles, but made a game-deciding play with an interception that he returned for a 58-yard touchdown. The next week, the Trojans played their rival, UCLA. Polamalu had 2 tackles but made key plays when he blocked a punt and made an interception that set up key field goals for USC. He won his first PAC-10 Defensive Player of the Week. USC then went on to the Las Vegas Bowl against the Utah and Polamalu made a career-high 20 tackles, and 3 tackles for a loss, winning MVP for the game. He finished his junior campaign with a team-high 118 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss, 1 sack, 3 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, 3 blocked punts, and 2 touchdowns. Polamalu won USC's MVP award and was voted a first-team All-American by Football Writers and College and Pro Football News Weekly. The Associated Press voted him second-team All-American.[3]

Senior season

For his last season, Polamalu continued to uphold his big play reputation. After being voted team captain for the second consecutive year, he opened the 2002 season with 7 tackles and 1 tackle for a loss in a victory over Auburn. The Trojans faced number 18 Colorado in week 2 and Polamalu had a team-high 11 tackles. His performance in the 40–3 blowout over Colorado won him Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week. In the fifth game of the season, he injured his ankle on the first defensive series against number 17 Washington State. After sitting out a game, he returned against #22 Washington and racked up 5 tackles and returned an interception 33-yards. Polamalu then disrupted Stanford for the third year in a row, accumulating a season-high 13 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss, and 1 sack. He played his last college game in the Orange Bowl against number 3 Iowa. A hamstring injury sidelined him for the majority of the game. Polamalu finished his senior season with 68 tackles, 9 tackles for a loss, 3 sacks, 1 interception, and 3 forced fumbles. He was voted a first team All-American by the Associated Press, Football Writers,, and Walter Camp, making him the first Trojan to be a 2-time first-team All-American since Tony Boselli in 1992.[3]

Troy Polamalu finished his college career with 278 tackles, 29 tackles for a loss, 6 interceptions, 4 blocked punts, and 3 touchdowns.[3]

Professional career

2003 NFL Draft

In the last game of his college career in the Orange Bowl, Polamalu injured his knee in pre-game warm-ups and had very limited action in the game that day. The injury also caused Polamalu to miss the Senior Bowl and 2003 NFL Combine.[4] Polamalu was able to perform for scouts at his USC pro day.

Polamalu was drafted 16th overall in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Polamalu was the team's second option at safety, as they had planned on signing Dexter Jackson that off-season. Jackson, the reigning Super Bowl MVP with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, had a verbal agreement to sign with the Steelers, only to back out at the last minute and sign with the Arizona Cardinals instead.[5] The Steelers then drafted Polamalu.

The Chargers, who had the 15th overall pick, had a major need at safety to replace Rodney Harrison but passed on the opportunity to select Polamalu by trading down and getting Sammy Davis and Terrence Kiel. The Steelers quickly made a move to bring Polamalu to their team. The Steelers believed so much that Polamalu could have a positive impact on their defense that they traded up from the twenty-seventh spot to the sixteenth spot, originally held by the Chiefs. The Steelers traded away the ninety-second and two hundredth overall picks for the rights to switch first-round picks. Essentially, the trade was Polamalu for Larry Johnson, Julian Battle, and Brooks Bollinger (the Bollinger pick was subsequently traded to the Jets in the same draft). He has the distinction of being the only safety ever drafted by the Steelers in the first round.[6] Polamalu signed a five-year, $8,275,000 contract.

Pre-draft measureables
Wt 40y 20ss 3-cone Vert BP Wonderlic
206 lb 4.3s X X 29[7] 24*[8]

(* represents NFL Combine)

Pittsburgh Steelers

Polamalu during the 2007 season

The Steelers used Polamalu in many defensive plays in a wide variety of defensive roles. In his third season (2005), he tied the NFL record for most sacks in a single game by a safety, achieving three sacks. The 2007 Pro Bowl was his third consecutive Pro Bowl appearance. He started at strong safety for the AFC, playing next to the Baltimore Ravens starting free safety Ed Reed. The rivalry they shared based on their teams' divisional rivalry was evident, as the two battled for possession of an overthrown halfback pass from former New York Giants running back Tiki Barber, which Reed eventually caught. He made the AP NFL All-Pro Second Team in 2005, followed by being named to the First Team in 2006.

His first Super Bowl appearance was in Super Bowl XL in 2006, when the Pittsburgh Steelers gained the franchise's fifth Super Bowl win by defeating the Seattle Seahawks, 21–10.

On July 23, 2007, before training camp, the Steelers gave Polamalu the biggest contract in team history, extending him through 2011. In an article on, Polamalu said, "I did not want to be a player who is jumping from team to team." Polamalu had repeatedly expressed his intent on staying with the Steelers. The four-year contract extension, worth just over $30 million with about $15 million in guarantees, made Polamalu one of the highest-paid defensive backs in the league and the highest-paid safety in the league, though this distinction was later taken by Bob Sanders on December 28, 2007, when he signed a five-year, $37.5 million contract with $20 million in guarantees.[9]

Polamalu (left) and teammate Ryan Clark in the Steelers' Super Bowl XLIII victory parade in February 2009

Polamalu was named a reserve to the 2008 Pro Bowl despite having no interceptions and only playing in 11 games during the 2007 season. Polamalu's injury-plagued 2007 season led him to partake in a California rehab program.[10] He suffered a hamstring injury late in his off-season workout, causing him to miss Pittsburgh's 2008 training camp.[11] He returned to practicing with the team days after the camp's conclusion, however.[12]

In spring 2008, reported that Polamalu's number 43 jersey was the 15th-highest-selling jersey in the NFL. The only Pittsburgh Steeler to sell more was Ben Roethlisberger's number 7 jersey, at the 10th spot.

Polamalu's fourth-quarter interception return for a touchdown in the 2008 AFC Championship game against the Baltimore Ravens helped the Steelers clinch a victory en route to another Super Bowl appearance. At Super Bowl XLIII, he got two assisted tackles in the Steelers victory over the Cardinals, 27–23.

Polamalu was named to the 2009 Pro Bowl as the AFC's strong safety after being given a unanimous vote by five experts. He was joined by Steelers teammates James Harrison and James Farrior.

In the 2009 season opener against the Tennessee Titans, Polamalu recorded six tackles and one interception before getting injured while trying to recover a blocked field goal. He sustained a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee, and missed the next four games. He returned to play in the sixth week of the season against the Cleveland Browns. He later reinjured himself against the Bengals. In a Sports Illustrated survey of 296 active NFL players, Polamalu was ranked the 9th "dirtiest player" in the NFL.[13]

In the 2010 season opener against the Atlanta Falcons, Polamalu made a possible game-saving interception with 1:45 left in the game. The Steelers went on to win in overtime. In week 13 of 2010, Polamalu made a game-changing play against the Baltimore Ravens by forcing a fumble with a sack to set up a 9-yard touchdown pass to Isaac Redman with 2:51 left to give the Steelers a 13-10 victory. In week 14 against the Cincinnati Bengals, Polamalu cut in front of intended receiver Terrell Owens to intercept a Carson Palmer pass and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown. Polamalu re-injured an ankle on this interception, but stayed in the game. He recorded another interception later in the game. He missed the next two games with an ankle injury but returned for the last game of the season against the Cleveland Browns. In that game, he intercepted Colt McCoy before being pulled from the game when the Steelers were leading by over 30 points. It gave him his 7th interception of the year.

Polamalu and the Steelers defense led Pittsburgh to their third Super Bowl in six years.

On January 31, 2011, Polamalu was named the AP Defensive Player of the Year after receiving 17 votes, beating out for the award fellow USC Trojan and Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, who received 15 votes.[14] He also won the NFL Alumni Player of the Year award, despite being beaten for Defensive Back of the Year by Aqib Talib of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In Super Bowl XLV Polamalu had 3 tackles, but the Steelers lost to the Green Bay Packers, 31–25.[15]

Polamalu suffered a tear in his right calf in the 2012 preseason.[16][17] The Steelers kept him on the active roster, but this injury caused him to miss half the season.[18]

Polamalu in a 2013 game against the Tennessee Titans

In the 2013 season opener against the Tennessee Titans, Polamalu made a play where he ran through the Titans' offensive line exactly at the snap to sack quarterback Jake Locker.[19][20] In week 14 against the Miami Dolphins, he intercepted Ryan Tannehill and returned the ball 19 yards for a touchdown.[21]

On March 5, 2014, Polamalu signed a three-year contract extension with the Steelers.[22]


On April 10, 2015, Polamalu announced his retirement.[23] He finished his 12-year career with 770 tackles, 32 interceptions, and three touchdowns.

Regular-season statistics

NFL career statistics
Year Team GP GS Total Solo Ast Sck SFTY PDef Int Yds TDs Long
2003 PIT 16 0 38 30 8 2.0 0 4 0 0 0 0
2004 PIT 16 16 96 67 29 1.0 0 15 5 58 1 26
2005 PIT 16 16 91 73 18 3.0 0 8 2 42 0 36
2006 PIT 13 13 77 58 19 1.0 0 10 3 51 0 49
2007 PIT 11 11 58 45 13 0.0 0 9 0 0 0 0
2008 PIT 16 16 73 54 19 0.0 0 17 7 59 0 23
2009 PIT 5 5 20 18 2 0.0 0 7 3 17 0 23
2010 PIT 14 14 63 49 14 1.0 0 11 7 101 1 45
2011 PIT 16 16 91 64 27 1.0 0 14 2 33 0 33
2012 PIT 7 7 34 29 5 1.0 0 3 1 1 0 1
2013 PIT 16 16 69 50 19 2.0 0 11 2 36 1 19
2014 PIT 12 12 61 40 21 0.0 0 1 0 0 0 0
Total Total 158 142 770 576 194 12.0 0 100 32 398 3 49

Personal life

Polamalu is of American Samoan descent and was raised by his mother's brother Salu Polamalu in rural Southern Oregon. Born Troy Aumua, he petitioned in 2007 to change his legal name to his mother's maiden name of Polamalu, which he had been using for the previous fifteen years.[24] Polamalu's uncle Kennedy Polamalu was the Jacksonville Jaguars running backs coach for five years, during which time the Jaguars defeated Polamalu's Steelers in four of their five meetings, and is currently the offensive coordinator for UCLA. Another uncle, Aoatoa Polamalu, played nose tackle at Penn State from 1984 to 1988.[25] His cousin Joe Polamalu played linebacker for Oregon State University and another cousin, Maika Polamalu, played fullback for the United States Naval Academy. Another cousin, Leie Sualua, played at University of Oregon and Nicky Sualua at Ohio State then to the Dallas Cowboys and Cincinnati Bengals.

Polamalu is married to Theodora Holmes and has two sons: Paisios, born on October 31, 2008, and Ephraim, born September 16, 2010.[26][27] Theodora is the sister of NFL player and USC Trojans alumnus Alex Holmes.[28] He resides with his family in Pittsburgh during the football season and in San Diego, California, during the off-season.[29]

Polamalu's favorite pastimes include surfing, growing flowers, making furniture and playing the piano.[28][30]

Despite Polamalu's hard-hitting style on the gridiron, he is known off the field as a soft-spoken family man.[31]

Polamalu is well read in the history and theology of early Christianity, which ultimately led both him and his wife to convert to Orthodox Christianity in 2007. He made the Sign of the Cross after every play. Among his spiritual activities was a 2007 pilgrimage to Orthodox Christian sites in Greece and Turkey.[32] He seldom gives interviews, but when he does, he often speaks of the role his spirituality plays in his life. Polamalu has said that he tries to separate himself from his profession as much as possible, including not watching football games at home. He prays after each play and on the sidelines.[33] His sons are both named after well-known Orthodox Christian saints: Saint Paisios the Great of Egypt and Saint Ephraim the Syrian.

Polamalu and his wife founded the Harry Panos Fund to honor Theodora's grandfather, who served in World War II.[34]

During the 2011 NFL lockout, Polamalu utilized his time away from the field to return to the University of Southern California to complete his college education. On May 13, 2011, he graduated from USC with a bachelor's degree in history.[35] On his personal website he explained, "I decided to finish what I started and walked that stage today not only because it was very important to me personally, but because I want to emphasize the importance of education, and that nothing should supersede it."[36] Teammate Ben Roethlisberger followed in Polamalu's footsteps the following off-season and finished his degree as well.[37]


Polamalu's hair is one of his most distinguishing characteristics, allowing him to be easily spotted on the field. In the CBS Playoffs Pre-game Show, Polamalu said the last time he had gotten a haircut was in 2000 at USC[31] when a coach told him he needed one. On November 9, 2010, while appearing on Mike and Mike in the Morning, Polamalu said he had his most recent haircut seven or eight years prior.

In an October 15, 2006, game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Chiefs' running back Larry Johnson pulled Polamalu down by the hair in order to tackle him. Although tackling a player by his hair is legal and does not alone constitute unnecessary roughness,[38] Johnson was penalized for rising to his feet while retaining grasp of Polamalu's hair (pulling him up in the process).

Polamalu has a contract with Head & Shoulders shampoo, and has starred in five commercials for the product; however, Odell Beckham Jr. took his place after Polamalu's retirement. In August 2010, P&G paid for a million-dollar insurance policy from Lloyd's of London for Polamalu's hair.[39]

In the media

In 2005, Pittsburgh-area band Mr. Devious wrote and recorded the novelty song "Puhlahmahlu", a parody of the song "Mah Nà Mah Nà". Guitarist Glenn Shirey said that the song was inspired by Fox Sports announcer Dick Stockton's mispronunciation of Polamalu's name.[40]

Polamalu is featured on the cover of the Scholastic children's book National Football League Megastars which profiles Polamalu and 14 other NFL stars.

During Super Bowl XLIII, a commercial of Polamalu aired that had him do a remake of the famous "Mean Joe" Greene Coca-Cola commercial, except it was advertising for Coca-Cola Zero instead.[41] Two Coke "brand managers" take the Coke Zero bottle away right when the kid is to give it to Polamalu, with Polamalu subsequently tackling one of the managers. Then, instead of giving the kid his own jersey, he rips the shirt off the brand manager he has tackled and tosses it to the kid. Greene, who like Polamalu lives a very quiet life off the field in contrast to his on-field play, liked the commercial and gave his stamp of approval.[42]

He was on the cover of Madden NFL 10 with Larry Fitzgerald and is supposedly a sufferer of the "Madden Curse".[43][44]


  1. 1 2 Bisheff, Steve (April 14, 2015) "Looking back at the career of Troy Polamalu." ESPN Insider. (Retrieved 4-14-2015.)
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 "USC Trojans Player Bio:Troy Polamalu".
  4. " " News " Stories " April 17, 2003: Kirwan's NFL Draft Analysis By Position: Safeties".
  5. Bouchette, Ed (2003-11-06). "". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
  6. Bouchette, Ed (2003-04-27). "Steelers trade for higher first-round pick, select Southern California defensive back". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
  7. [http://www.900 "Pittsburgh Steelers by 900 FBL"].
  8. "Troy Polamalu, SS, Southern Cal - 2003 NFL Draft Scout Profile, Powered by The SportsXchange".
  9. "ESPN - Steelers lock up Polamalu through 2011 season - NFL".
  10. Troy Polamalu (2008). NFLTA: Polamalu's rehab. NFL Films.
  11. Bouchette, Ed (2008-07-29). "Steelers Training Camp: Misery remains Polamalu's company". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 2008-07-30.
  12. Harris, John (2008-08-21). "Polamalu hits higher gear". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Retrieved 2008-08-21.
  13. "Dirtiest NFL player: Steelers' Ward". Sports Illustrated. 2009-11-04. Retrieved 2011-09-10.
  14. White, R.J. (2011-01-31). "Troy Polamalu Named NFL's Defensive Player of Year". Retrieved 2011-01-31.
  15. "NFL Alumni Names Winners of 2010 Player of the Year Awards". NFL Alumni. 2011-02-05. Retrieved 2011-02-09.
  16. Alan Robinson (October 17, 2012). "Torn calf muscle keeps Polamalu on sidelines". Retrieved 2014-06-16.
  17. Hensley, Jamison (October 8, 2012). "Troy Polamalu's calf injury clouds future". Retrieved 2014-06-16.
  18. Battista, Judy (August 19, 2013). "Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers hoping to get back up in 2013". Retrieved 2014-06-16.
  19. Steelers vs. Titans: Polamalu leaps in for sack
  20. Wilkening, Mike (September 13, 2013). "Marvin Lewis praises Troy Polamalu's knowledge of the opposition". Retrieved 2014-06-16.
  21. Steelers notebook: Polamalu teaches Tannehill lesson
  22. "Steelers sign Polamalu, Miller to extensions". March 5, 2014. Retrieved 2014-06-16.
  23. Rosenthal, Gregg. "Troy Polamalu retires after 12 seasons with Steelers". Retrieved 10 April 2015.
  24. "Polamalu Wants To Change Name". Retrieved 2008-05-31.
  25. "Football Opens Against Penn State In Kickoff Classic XVIII". USC Sports Information. 2000-08-21. Retrieved 2008-04-09.
  26. Beaver County Times Dad-to-be Polamalu may miss Monday's game
  27. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Steelers Update: Polamalu will play vs. Redskins after birth of first child Friday
  28. 1 2 "Steelers' Polamalu never out of position _ mostly because he does not have one". 2006-01-19. Retrieved 2008-05-31.
  29. Dan Jones (July 4, 2009). "Troy Polamalu still feels at home". The News-Review.
  30. "Steelers' Troy Polamalu: The Samoan Headhunter". Retrieved 2008-11-09.
  31. 1 2 Orsborn, Tom (2006-02-02). "Samoan stars play big roles in big game". San Antonio Express Metro Edition.
  32. O'Brien, Jim (2007-04-18). "Troy Polamalu goes on holy pilgrimage".
  33. "In faith and football, Polamalu is without equal".
  34. "Steelers stars lend helping hand to Pittsburghers".
  35. "Troy Polamalu graduates from USC". 14 May 2011. Retrieved 14 May 2011.
  36. "Troy Polamalu's Student of the Year". 13 May 2011. Retrieved 14 May 2011.
  37. "Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger graduates at 30, wins 'Super Bowl in life'". The Star. Toronto. 2012-05-07.
  38. "NFL player Troy Polamalu gets $1m hair insurance". BBC News. 1 September 2010. Retrieved 2 September 2010.
  39. Troy Polamalu has hair insured, Associated Press report. August 30, 2010
  40. "Musicians now a Troy band with 'Puhlahmahlu' – Pittsburgh Tribune-Review".
  41. "".
  42. "".
  43. Madden Curse? Troy Polamalu of Pittsburgh Steelers and Larry Fitzgerald of Arizona Cardinals on Madden NFL cover - ESPN
  44. Lee, Kevin (2009-04-27). "Fitzgerald & Polamalu On Madden NFL 2010 Cover". GamerCenterOnline. Retrieved 2009-04-27.
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