Last Thursday was a dark, dark day for me. As in a throw-my-phone-at-the-wall, break-down-in-sobs-with-mascara-running, question-the-meaning-of-life kind of day.
Troy Polamalu had retired.
Now, I’ve been a Steelers fan for about as long as I can remember, and there hasn’t been a player I’ve loved more than Troy. I’m on my second Polamalu jersey — the first one is much too small, so my dog wears it on game days — I have a Polamalu wig, my dad buys Head & Shoulders shampoo just because Polamalu is in the ads and my Twitter handle is @scarroll43 because Polamalu wore No. 43.
I’m pretty convinced that he’s the greatest safety of all time — his intuition, his speed, his view of the field, his versatility — and I can make a pretty darn good case that he’s the greatest Steeler of all time (or, at least, he’s certainly up there with Mean Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, Terry Bradshaw and Jack Ham). And maybe more importantly, I’m convinced that the future Hall of Famer (if he’s not a first balloter, I’ll go ballistic) is an even better person.
Here’s the thing about sports: Sensationalism sells. The NFL has been in the news lately for murder, domestic violence, drug use and abuse — all of which are incredibly important topics that deserve all the attention they’re getting because of the severity and terrible nature of the cases.
But sometimes I wish the media could mention the good things that players do to show that for every bad egg, there are several more good ones. While the Hernandez case was ongoing and every media outlet in the country was following it, my dad sent me an email from a small site saying that Polamalu had paid close to $50,000 for the funeral of a Utah player, a Texas A&M player and his brother who tied in a tragic car accident, none of whom Polamalu knew.
The guys who keep themselves out of the scandalous headlines and instead do incredible things, such as Russell Wilson, Thomas Davis and Anquan Boldin, the latter two who were finalists for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, which also recognizes off-field service. Numerous pundits debate and debate (and debate) who should win the M.V.P, Rookie of the Year and Comeback Player of the Year awards, but the Walter Payton award flies under the radar with nobody discussing the different contributions these players have put forth. I love hearing about guys who attract the right kind of attention and seem to break the stereotype that is currently surrounding NFL players.
Here’s what Joe Flacco, the quarterback for the Ravens (the Steelers’ biggest rival), said about Troy after his retirement: “Troy’s an example of the right way to do things, on the field and off the field. Such a great competitor on every play, and he treats everyone the right way. That’s the right way to handle yourself. The image he had, the example he set … he just did it right.”
Hold on real quick, let me just wipe away my tears.
It’s easy to say Polamalu was a great player — another of my favorite things Flacco said was that he has no good memories of Polamalu on the field — but I think it’s more important to realize what an inspiration and what a phenomenal person he is.
Still, my heart is broken in a million tiny pieces with the news of his retirement and the idea of watching football on a Sunday and not seeing him on the field, even if I am pretty glad I never have to see him out of the Black and Gold.
So, if you need to get a hold of me in the next year or so, I’ll be in my room, sobbing into my Polamalu jersey and watching old highlight reels on repeat.