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Rooneys say Polamalu 'ranks right up there' with Steelers' all-time greats

| Friday, April 10, 2015, 7:57 p.m.
Steelers safety Troy Polamalu brings down Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald during the fourth quarter Sunday October 23, 2011 at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Christopher Horner | trib total media
Steelers safety Troy Polamalu brings down Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald during the fourth quarter Sunday October 23, 2011 at University of Phoenix Stadium.
CAP STEELERS RAVENS 005 Steelers safety Troy Polamalu (43) stops Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco during the AFC Championship Game at Heinz Field on 1/18/09.
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
CAP STEELERS RAVENS 005 Steelers safety Troy Polamalu (43) stops Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco during the AFC Championship Game at Heinz Field on 1/18/09.

Even though there are names like Mike Webster, Jack Lambert, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Mel Blount, Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Joe Greene and Jack Ham on the list of the Steelers' all-time greats, Troy Polamalu belongs right there among them.

At least that's what Steelers president Art Rooney II thinks.

For that matter, that's what chairman Dan Rooney believes, as well, and he was the man in charge during the most successful era in Steelers' history that produced nine Hall of Famers in the 1970s.

“I look at it that he was one of the great players we've had,” Dan Rooney said. “You go back, some of the great players like Mel Blount and Rod Woodson (as players in the defensive backfield) and he ranks right up there with them.”

The Steelers on Friday announced Polamalu's intentions to retire after 12 seasons with the team that included eight Pro Bowls, four first-team All-Pros, a defensive player of the year award and two Super Bowl titles.

Even though Polamalu's statistics don't measure up with some of the all-time best at the position, he always will be thought of as a play-making safety who had a flair for the dramatic.

“His unique style of play will be remembered among the all-time Steelers,” Art Rooney said. “His passion for the game of football on the field and his willingness to be a contributor to the community make him a very special person.”

In Art Rooney's eyes, the Steelers might not have won Super Bowl XL against Seattle and XLIII against Arizona if the organization didn't trade up 11 spots in the 2003 draft to No. 16 to select Polamalu.

“There is no doubt that Troy was a key player in those Super Bowl years, so it would be hard for me to imagine that we would have been able to win those Super Bowls without Troy,” Art Rooney said.

There will be no news conference announcing Polamalu's retirement. Multiple requests to Polamalu for an interview went unanswered.

Polamalu's retirement didn't come as a surprise.

The Steelers last month made the decision to move forward without him and afforded him the time and respect to decide whether he wanted to continue playing with another organization or retire.

After more than a month of deliberation, Polamalu chose to retire.

Polamalu called Dan Rooney on Thursday night to tell him he was retiring.

“He had a lot of nice things to say about the organization, and it was very sincere,” Dan Rooney said. “He is a good, family man, which meant a lot to him. I think that's part of what he is going to do (moving forward). But he's been a tremendous leader, really a leader by example, not only as a great football player but as a great person.”

The retirement of Polamalu will save the Steelers $6 million in salary this year if the team processes the paperwork after June 1.

The Steelers could fight to get back a prorated portion of Polamalu's signing bonus of $6.75 million (they could recover $4.5 million), although that's not expected to be pursued because of his good standing with the organization.

“Troy Polamalu was as unique a person as he was a football player,” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said. “His actions as a human being were just as impressive as any of the many inhuman plays he made on the football field. We were very fortunate to have him be a part of our organization for the past 12 years.”

Polamalu, who turns 34 on April 19, was the second-oldest player on the roster behind James Harrison. The Steelers have jettisoned three of the six oldest players on the roster from last year (Brett Keisel, Ike Taylor and Polamalu) and have only one defensive starter who is 30 (William Gay). Four years ago, they had eight.

Polamalu played in 158 career regular-season games — fifth-most among defensive backs in team history — with 142 starts, and he started all 15 postseason contests he played in.

“I remember watching him on tape during my career and saying out loud: ‘How the heck did he just do that?' '' said former NFL safety Matt Bowen, an analyst for Bleacher Report. “He had an amazing feel for where the ball was going and played with so much body control that he could consistently put himself in a position to make plays.”

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin called Polamalu one of those special players. He likened him to a couple of special players he coached while in Tampa Bay: Hall of Famers Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp.

“Troy is a shining example of a football man in the way he loved the game, the way he respected the game and the way he played the game,” Tomlin said. “It's a shining example of the window into who he is. He is a legendary Steeler and a legendary man.”

Notes: The Steelers re-signed veteran safety Will Allen. Allen, who turns 33 on June 17, spent the past two seasons with the Steelers. He will provide depth behind starters Mike Mitchell and Shamarko Thomas. … The Steelers had three more pre-draft visitors, raising their total to 10. The big name was Central Florida redshirt junior wide receiver Breshad Perriman (6-2, 212), a projected first-round pick. Also visiting were South Alabama tight end Wes Saxton (6-3, 248) and Boston College quarterback Tyler Murphy (6-1, 214).

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mkaboly@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.

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