UNIONTOWN, Pa. (AP) — Troy Polamalu’s iconic football career is over.
The Uniontown Herald-Standard reported Thursday night that the eight-time Pro Bowl safety told Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney he will retire rather than return for a 13th season.
“Maybe it was a sign for me to retire when I chase my kids around and couldn’t catch them,” Polamalu told the newspaper. “It was either a sign for me to retire or a sign for them to begin training.”
The four-time All-Pro turns 34 later this month and had two years remaining on his contract. Yet he saw his play dip significantly from his prime, which peaked when he was named the 2010 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Polamalu missed nine games in 2012 with a calf injury and four games in 2014 with a knee injury.
The newspaper reported the Steelers asked Polamalu to retire in February but he did not make a decision until having an epiphany in church last weekend. Polamalu said he never seriously considered joining another team if Pittsburgh chose to cut him.
“I did not seriously consider playing elsewhere,” Polamalu said. “It was just whether or not I wanted to play.”
Polamalu canvassed friends and family looking for advice. They told him he had nothing left to prove. Still, he hesitated until realizing the fact he was even having the debate meant maybe it was time to move on.
“That was kind of the sign for me to say `Whoa, if you’re just even debating it maybe you shouldn’t play anymore,'” Polamalu said. “Because what I do know about this game is it takes a lot, a lot, of commitment just to be an average player.”
And there was nothing average about Polamalu at the height of a career that made him one of the NFL’s most explosive and dynamic players. His signature black curls bouncing on the top of his No. 43 jersey, Polamalu served as the backbone of a defense that helped the franchise to two Super Bowl wins and an appearance in another between the 2005 and 2010 seasons.
His departure is the latest in a series of significant changes to a defense in the midst of a generational shift. Hall of Fame defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau did not have his contract renewed in January and free agent linebacker Jason Worilds opted to retire at the age of 27.
The Steelers will likely turn to third-year safety Shamarko Thomas to replace Polamalu, whose coverage skills diminished to the point where he was often used as a linebacker in dime packages rather than chase wide receivers all over the field. Polamalu invited Thomas out to the West Coast to train last spring, workouts Thomas joked were akin to learning how to be a ninja.
Taken with the 16th overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft out of USC, Polamalu’s instincts often allowed him more freedom within Pittsburgh’s 3-4 defense to go out and make plays, whether it was anticipating the snap count and jumping over the line of scrimmage or using his fingertips to pluck a pass just inches from the ground. He retires with 32 career interceptions, three of which he returned for touchdowns. He also recovered seven fumbles and collected a dozen sacks.
His presence in the locker room leaves a void that will be difficult to fill.
“Man! (at)tpolamalu was the 1st person to introduce himself to me when I arrived at camp last fall. I’ll never forget that,” Steelers running back Josh Harris tweeted after news of the retirement broke.
It’s a sentiment that is likely to be echoed throughout an organization that relied heavily on Polamalu’s immense talent to go on another Super Bowl binge akin to the Super Steelers of the 1970s.