Troy Polamalu to join distinguished group of Steelers given the cold shoulder

By Ed Bouchette
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 8 years ago

Troy Polamalu is likely to be shown the door. (Peter Diana/Post-Gazette)

Good morning,

It should come as little surprise that the Steelers do not want Troy Polamalu to play anymore. Sentiment does not win football games. It is why they released Hines Ward, James Farrior and Aaron Smith, all every bit as important to delivering Lombardi Trophies to the Steelers as did Polamalu.

If anything, the Steelers showed too much sentiment when they brought him back for the 2014 season. The coaching staff knew Polamalu no longer could be counted on to cover receivers so they used him in other ways that might try to take advantage of his other attributes.

It did not work and it was painful to watch him try, just as it was when they did everything they could to get Ward his 1,000th catch. Free safety Mike Mitchell’s performance might have improved had Polamalu been a resemblance of his old self.

They delayed this moment by a year, the same as they did with Dwight White at the end of his career. Bill Cowher once told me how difficult it was releasing players who had put everything on the line for his teams to win. I’m sure most coaches feel that way.

The Steelers have a long history of showing old vets the door – they would not have all those trophies if they did not. L.C. Greenwood was cut in training camp. So was Franco Harris after he held out while under contract during the 1984 training camp and they felt his demands were too high.

Mike Webster was forced into retirement by the Steelers after the 1988 season. He joined the Kansas City Chiefs as an assistant coach and wound up playing two more years for them as their starting center.

Rod Woodson felt the Steeelers offer to him as he was about to become a free agent was insulting. He signed for less with San Francisco in 1996 and wound up playing seven more seasons with three different teams after the Steelers, earning his only Super Bowl ring with the Baltimore Ravens.

What do Harris, Webster and Woodson otherwise all have in common? They all are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Alan Faneca, eligible for the first time for the Hall of Fame this year, also left after not receiving a contract offer from the Steelers as a free agent after the 2007 season. He played three more seasons for the Jets and Cardinals. Like Webster, Ward and Woodson, Faneca is a member of the Steelers’ 75th Anniversary Team.

So too is James Harrison, who was released by the team two years ago after he refused to take their offer of a paycut. Another on that 75th team is Casey Hampton, who was not released but never did retire; he just never received another contract offer from the Steelers after the 2012 season, his 12th and last.

Want another? Gary Anderson is the kicker on that 75th team. I attended a press conference where he and his then-wife belittled the Steelers for not offering him what they felt was a proper contract for a kicker of his expertise. He then signed with Philadelphia as a free agent in 1995 and went on to kick in the NFL another decade through the 2004 season with four different teams.

Troy Polamalu should talk to Carnell Lake, his secondary coach. Lake also is on that 75th Anniversary team and also was not wanted back after the 1998 season. He played in 1999 with Jacksonville and the 2001 season in Baltimore.

Here’s one more, Greg Lloyd. He is one of five linebackers on that 75th anniversary team and like many others on that distinguished list, was shown the door. He was the 1994 AFC defensive player of the year but after the 1997 season, he was released. He played one more season for the Carolina Panthers.

And Dick LeBeau did not want to give up being defensive coordinator of the Steelers, but sentiment did not rule the day there either.

So Troy Polamalu, also a member of that 75th Anniversary Team, is about to join a large group of very good players, many of them great ones and Hall of Famers, who have been given the cold shoulder by the Steelers. It’s just how things have to work in the NFL, where there is no mandatory retirement age but where the player often is the last one to realize it’s over.