Legendary strong safety Troy Polamalu didn’t just stand out because of his long locks that flowed out of his helmet.
He stood out because he was a menacing presence on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense.
With Polamalu on board, the Steelers led the NFL in scoring defense four times between 2004 and 2014.
They also won two of their six Super Bowl Trophies during that stretch.
That’s the Troy Polamalu difference for you.
Little wonder Polamalu has a gold jacket and bust in Canton. Not only that, but he’s also a man of character off the football field.
Troy Polamalu is a gridiron legend in every sense of the word.
Troy Aumua Polamalu was born in Garden Grove, CA on April 19, 1981.
Polamalu, who is of American-Samoan descent, was known as Troy Aumua when he was born. He has a brother Sakio and three sisters Sheila, Lupe, and Tria.
Polamalu’s siblings all had checkered pasts. He told GQ’s David Kamp in the winter of 2011 he remembered his brother riding in the back of a police car. He also remembered him going in and out of jail.
As for Polamalu’s sisters, they had babies when they were still in high school.
His mother’s side of the family raised him after his father left shortly after his birth.
Polamalu spent the first nine years of his existence in Santa Ana, CA. He is one of several gridiron stars who hail from Orange County. Others who preceded him include former USC Trojan Mosi Tatupu and former UCLA Bruins Manu Tuiasosopo and Terry Tautolo.
Polamalu became a bit of a delinquent when he was a child growing up in Southern California.
He stole lunch from the local grocery daily and broke into buildings, per GQ.
Polamalu realized he didn’t want to grow up in that kind of environment. He wanted to thrive in a different kind of environment.
Polamalu’s mother Suila relented and sent him to Tenmile, OR to visit his uncle Salu Polamalu and his aunt Shelley in the summer before fourth grade.
Salu was an employee with Oregon’s department of transportation office. He and his family resided in a rural household with horses and cows grazing in the nearby pastures.
Polamalu described his uncle Salu as an old school disciplinarian who strictly adhered to Samoan principles.
Salu found out his nephew wasn’t into organized sports at all. However, it didn’t take for the youngster to learn the rudiments of the gridiron.
Before long, Troy Polamalu became a three-sport star in football, baseball, and basketball at Douglas High School in Winston, OR.
At this time, Polamalu realized his life was slowly going in the right direction. He also realized divine guidance was at the center of it all.
He told GQ in 2011 he had made prayer a way of life – he’d pray on the gridiron, during team meetings, and while driving. This new way of life gave Troy Polamalu a brand new perspective of football.
“Football was not, and is not, a sport to me,” Polamalu told GQ. ” It’s a spiritual battle.”
Despite Troy Polamalu’s newfound faith, his juvenile shenanigans continued.
He stole a Bible from a local gift shop when he was in sixth grade. Ironically, Polamalu believed his intent wasn’t bad at all, per Kamp.
Polamalu continued flourishing on the gridiron.
He played on both sides of the ball and had 430 rushing yards, five touchdowns, and two interceptions for the Douglas Trojans as a freshman.
Polamalu turned things up a notch in his sophomore campaign.
He had 1,003 rushing yards, 340 receiving yards, 20 touchdowns, and six interceptions. Polamalu made the All-Far West League first team as a running back and the second team as a defensive back.
A year later, Polamalu had 1,040 rushing yards, 22 rushing touchdowns, and eight interceptions for the Trojans. He earned All-State and All-Far West League Offensive Most Valuable Player honors.
Injuries limited Troy Polamalu to just four games in his senior year at Douglas High. He still finished had 671 rushing yards and nine touchdowns.
Polamalu also became an All-State outfielder and earned All-League first-team honors in basketball.
Many universities knocked on Polamalu’s door. He became a highly-touted recruit the Oregon Ducks, Oregon State Beavers, Illinois Fighting Illini, Washington Huskies, Washington State Cougars, Stanford Cardinal, Colorado Buffaloes, and USC Trojans coveted.
Troy Polamalu would eventually return to Southern California and make an impact with the USC Trojans.
College Days With The USC Trojans
USC Trojans Cardinal and Gold runs in Troy Polamalu’s blood.
His uncle Kennedy Polamalu (he goes by the shortened version of the family surname “Pola”) was a former USC Trojans fullback.
Polamalu became the Trojans’ offensive coordinator and running backs coach from 2010 to 2012. He is currently the running backs coach of the Minnesota Vikings.
In Troy Polamalu’s Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement speech, he said his Uncle Kennedy instilled in him “an authentic respect and passion for the game.”
When Troy was about to finish his stint on the high school football gridiron, his uncle reached out to then-USC Trojans head football coach Paul Hackett.
Kennedy Polamalu asked Hackett to watch film of his nephew. Hackett was impressed and agreed to make Troy Polamalu a USC Trojan.
“I believe God named me Troy for a reason,” Polamalu told ESPN’s Steve Bisheff. “I was born to come here.”
— L.A. city of champions 🇸🇻 (@SkolVikes84) April 10, 2015
Polamalu was a backup safety and linebacker during the 1999 NCAA season. He had 12 tackles, 2.0 sacks, and two forced fumbles in eight games.
Unfortunately, Polamalu sustained a concussion during practice and had to sit out the Trojans’ final four games.
USC had a 6-6 win-loss record in 1999 and failed to receive a bowl invite for the third time in four years.
A healthy Troy Polamalu had two interceptions in his sophomore season in 2000. He had his first career pick-six in a 29-5 rout of the Penn State Nittany Lions on August 27, 2000.
Polamalu asserted himself on defense time and again: he had 14 tackles against the Arizona State Sun Devils and Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the 2000 NCAA season.
USC wasn’t much better that year. The Trojans won just five games and failed to play in a bowl game for the second straight year.
Their fortunes would change significantly with the hiring of former New York Jets and New England Patriots head coach Pete Carroll prior to the 2001 NCAA campaign.
Carroll went 6-6 in his first year with the Trojans. However, he would lead USC to nine consecutive bowl appearances and two national titles from 2001 to 2009.
As for Troy Polamalu, he became the USC Trojans team captain for the 2001 NCAA season. He continued asserting himself on the defensive end – he even led the Trojans in tackles for six consecutive games.
Polamalu had an unbelievable 20 tackles and three tackles for loss in USC’s 10-6 loss to the Utah Utes in the 2001 Las Vegas Bowl.
Despite the heart-breaking loss, Polamalu told Lauren Dunn of USCTrojans.com in May 2018 it was his fondest memory playing college ball at USC.
To nobody’s surprise, Polamalu earned the team’s MVP award. He also became a Football Writers and College and Pro Football News Weekly First-Team All-American. Polamalu also became an Associated Press Second-Team All-American at the end of his junior season in 2001.
Polamalu finished his senior campaign with 68 tackles, nine tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, one interception, and three forced fumbles.
With Polamalu wreaking havoc on defense, the Trojans won eleven games in 2002. It was their highest win total in twenty-three years.
The fifth-ranked USC Trojans went on to beat the third-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes in the 2003 Orange Bowl, 38-17.
Polamalu didn’t see much action because of a hamstring injury.
Nonetheless, he piled up on the accolades again.
Polamalu earned a spot in the First-Team All-American rosters of The Associated Press, Football Writers, ESPN, and Walter Camp. He became the first USC Trojans player to earn First-Team All-American honors since Tony Boselli a decade earlier.
Polamalu finished his college football career with 278 tackles, 29 tackles for loss, six interceptions, four blocked punts, and three defensive touchdowns.
Troy Polamalu experienced a breakthrough moment far more valuable than statistics and awards: he met his future wife Theodora at USC.
Theodora was the younger sister of Polamalu’s teammate, Trojans tight end Alex Holmes.
Future Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer witnessed Polamalu’s romance with Theodora Holmes.
Palmer, Polamalu, and three other teammates lived in an off-campus residence on Adams Boulevard and Hoover Street. They spent most of their free time watching DVDs and playing dominoes, per Kamp.
Palmer told GQ he was around when Polamalu asked Alex’s permission to take his sister out on a date. They fell in love quickly. Fast forward several years later, they got married and had two sons.
Aside from meeting his future wife, Polamalu told USCTrojans.com in May 2018 that meeting his teammates and developing his stellar work ethic were some of his best experiences on campus.
Polamalu cherished the relationships he formed with his Trojans teammates during their barbecues, summer workouts, and weekend breakfasts.
When Dunn asked Polamalu if his two sons would become future USC Trojans players, he would leave them to decide. The best he could do is raise them in such a way they embody the ideal USC student-athlete.
Once Troy Polamalu played his final down on the college gridiron, he would go on to become one of the most dominant safeties in Pittsburgh Steelers franchise history.
Pro Football Career
The Pittsburgh Steelers made Troy Polamalu the 16th overall selection of the 2003 NFL Draft.
Steelers head coach Bill Cowher and Co. wanted Polamalu so bad they traded up eleven spots to snag the prized USC Trojans safety.
Many naysayers criticized the move because they felt the Steelers overspent for a safety who battled injury issues during his senior year at USC.
Pittsburgh took a step backward in 2003. The team won just six games and didn’t qualify for the postseason for the fourth time in six years.
However, when the Steelers drafted unheralded quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in 2004, they became one of the NFL’s elite franchises.
As for Troy Polamalu, he had 1.0 sack, one forced fumble, five interceptions, and one defensive touchdown in his second pro season.
Polamalu scored that touchdown – his first in the National Football League – in a showdown against the Cincinnati Bengals on October 3, 2004.
— Steelers Depot 7⃣ (@Steelersdepot) April 19, 2020
He intercepted Bengals quarterback (and former USC Trojans teammate) Carson Palmer, eluded several tackles, and took the ball twenty-six yards the other way for the pick-six.
While Palmer knew Polamalu as a very respectful guy off the gridiron, he remembered the Steelers safety running him over in the end zone. Palmer wound up hurting his shoulder, per GQ.
Polamalu’s heroics helped the Steelers prevail over the Bengals 28-17 and earn Roethlisberger his second victory in the National Football League.
Polamalu earned the first of his five consecutive Pro Bowl nods at the end of the 2004 NFL campaign.
The Steelers won an average of eleven games per year during that memorable stretch.
Without a doubt, the highlight of that part in Steelers history was winning Super Bowl XL against the Seattle Seahawks on February 5, 2006.
Troy Polamalu earned the first of his two Super Bowl rings on that day.
It wouldn’t take long before he earned his second one.
Pittsburgh went a gaudy 12-4 in the 2008 NFL season. The Steelers squared off against their AFC North rivals, the Baltimore Ravens, in the AFC Championship Game.
Troy Polamalu shone brightest among the Steelers’ defensive stars in that game.
Polamalu forced Baltimore into a three-and-out by impeding Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco’s forward progress in the early going.
The Steelers long-haired safety then scored on a game-clinching 40-yard pick-six off Flacco in the fourth quarter for a 23-14 Pittsburgh win.
— Blitzburgh (@Blitz_Burgh) January 18, 2020
The Steelers won their sixth Vince Lombardi Trophy after beating the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII.
It was one of the most memorable championship games in recent memory. It was the game where Steelers linebacker James Harrison scored on a 100-yard pick-six off Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner just before halftime of Pittsburgh’s exciting 27-23 win.
The Steelers averaged ten victories per season from 2009 to 2014. During that span, Troy Polamalu had 5.0 sacks, seven forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, 15 interceptions, and two defensive touchdowns.
Polamalu had 63 total tackles, 1.0 sack, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, seven interceptions, and one defensive touchdown in his unforgettable 2010 NFL campaign.
It came as no surprise he won the 2010 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.
Polamalu continued playing at a high level until he announced his retirement from the NFL on April 9, 2015.
He received an offer to suit up for the Tennessee Titans but eventually decided against it. He never seriously considered playing for other teams.
Polamalu cited family reasons on why he hung up his cleats.
“It’s all about family,” Polamalu told the Herald-Standard’s Jim Wexell (via NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal). “I live here in Pittsburgh now, and since the end of the season I”ve had a chance to enjoy my family on a level I never had before.”
He finished his 12-year NFL career with 771 total tackles, 12.0 sacks, 14 forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries, 32 interceptions, and three defensive touchdowns.
— Blitzburgh (@Blitz_Burgh) January 3, 2020
Polamalu was a four-time First-Team All-Pro and eight-time Pro Bowler. He’s also a member of the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team and Pittsburgh Steelers All-Time Team.
Talking to Troy Polamalu during practices and games could be tricky. Polamalu, a devout Christian, prayed regularly on the gridiron during his twelve-year NFL career.
Bill Cowher, his head coach with the Steelers from 2003 to 2005, said there’s a certain technique to communicating with Polamalu on the football field.
Coaches have to pick their spots with their soft-spoken strong safety. If Polamalu bowed his head after a play, they had to wait before he made eye contact with them.
“That’s the first step,” Cowher told GQ’s David Kamp in February 2011. “You have to get his eyes before you get his ears. It’s a little bit of a process.”
When Kamp visited the Polamalus’ Pittsburgh residence, he noticed it was quite modest by today’s athletes’ standards.
Kamp noticed the house had no consumer electronics, fancy cars (just a solitary Toyota SUV), trophies, awards, and other paraphernalia.
The one thing that stood out for Kamp were the crosses in each room.
When Kamp asked Polamalu if he consumed whey protein shakes and other nutritional supplements, he replied in the negative while quoting the Book of Matthew in the Bible.
Polamalu also shuns tattoos. He quoted Leviticus 19 which discourages Christians from marking their bodies.
“I don’t feel that I need a tattoo to represent myself as a Samoan or a Christian,” Polamalu told Kamp.
Polamalu also made a startling revelation to GQ in 2011: he could see demons, which he described as “anything that is doing the devil’s work.”
The clean-living Polamalu was a teetotaler until his wife Theodora convinced him to study “the beauty of the grape sometime during his career in Pittsburgh, per Kamp.
Theodora eventually won him over to the point he thought of starting his own winery in Sonoma County, CA someday. He also pours over wine books with the same tenacity he displays when studying Scripture.
Polamalu also gave GQ’s David Kamp a 1999 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cask 23 Cabernet Sauvignon as a parting gift at the end of their interview in 2011.
Troy Polamalu and his wife Theodora have two sons: Paisios and Ephraim.
Football also runs in Theodora’s side of the family. Her brothers are former Miami Dolphins and tight end Alex Holmes and former Indianapolis Colts center Khaled Holmes. Both of them played college ball at USC.
Polamalu and his family reside in Pittsburgh, PA during the football season. They spent the offseason in San Diego, CA.
Despite growing up on the West Coast, Troy Polamalu always considers the Steel City his home.
“Pittsburgh, to me, is home. It served as one of the most significant places in my life. It’s where I grew. It’s where my wife and I were married. It’s where I learned about spirituality,” Polamalu told CBS Sports’ Bryan DeArdo in the summer of 2021.
According to Polamalu’s official website, his hobbies include playing the piano, making furniture, gardening, and surfing.
Troy Polamalu's a beast and he's a Christian too. I have alot of respect for Christian Athletes. pic.twitter.com/618s6Xbv
— JeremyHubbs (@JeremyHubbs1) September 27, 2012
Troy Polamalu is a deeply spiritual person. He is knowledgeable in early Christian theology and doctrine. He and his wife converted to Greek Orthodox Christianity in 2007. They named their two sons after Greek Orthodox Christian saints.
Polamalu made the Sign of the Cross after every play on the football field. He has gone to Orthodox Christian pilgrimages to Greece and Turkey.
Polamalu became a member of the USC Athletics Hall of Fame on May 15, 2018. He learned about the development from Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver Lynn Swann, who also has the same USC Trojans and Pittsburgh Steelers background as Polamalu.
He told the Trojans’ official athletics website that earning the honor was something he never thought about. Instead, he thought about his teammates and the camaraderie they developed in the locker room and off the gridiron.
Polamalu entered the Steelers Hall of Honor on September 25, 2020. Other Pittsburgh legends who were inducted were Dwight White, Mike Wagner, Greg Lloyd, and James Farrior.
Troy Polamalu is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020. He was enshrined in Canton in the summer of 2021.
Part of his Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement speech reads:
“The greatest thing for me football-wise is it’s a test of will. It’s not exactly playing the game against the opponent. It’s playing the game within yourself…When you overcome those obstacles within the game, that’s when you become a better man.”
Polamalu traded his Terrible Towel for a Seattle Seahawks jersey with a fan who attended the ceremonies.
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 18, 2021
Many Pittsburgh Steelers fans were in attendance during Polamalu’s enshrinement in Canton.
Steelers legends Donnie Shell, Alan Faneca, and Bill Cowher also became members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame that weekend.
Polamalu tested positive for COVID-19 the week before his enshrinement in Canton.
He has made various media appearances since he retired in 2015. Polamalu was featured on the cover of the children’s book National Football League Megastars and the video game Madden NFL 10.
Polamalu starred as a voice actor in the 2016 full-length featured animated film “Moana.” He portrayed Villager No. 1 in the movie.
He has also been featured in Head & Shoulders shampoo commercials along with Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.