Troy Aumua Polamalu (born April 19, 1981), born Troy Aumua, is an American football strong safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League (NFL). He played college football for the University of Southern California, and earnedAll-American honors. He was chosen by the Steelers in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft. He was a member of two of the Steelers’Super Bowl championship teams, and has been selected for the Pro Bowl seven times.
Polamalu was born in Garden Grove, California. He graduated from Douglas High School in Winston, Oregon. Though playing in only four games during his senior season due to injury, he was named to the 1998 Super Prep All-Northwest team, Tacoma News Tribune Western 100, and the All-Far West League second team. A two-way player, Polamalu rushed for 671 yards with nine touchdowns and grabbed three interceptions.
Following his junior season, Polamalu was named to the All-State first team and was the All-Far West League Offensive Most Valuable Player for 9-1 Douglas. He rushed for 1,040 yards with 22 touchdowns and had 310 receiving yards. On defense, he made 65 tackles and had eight interceptions.
Polamalu received an athletic scholarship to attend the University of Southern California, and played for the USC Trojans football team from 1999 to 2002. He spent his first year at USC as a backup where he became a hybrid player, playing at both safety positions. While he was only a backup player at the time, Polamalu still made his mark in the eight games he played in, collecting two sacks, two forced fumbles and blocking a punt. He became a full-time starter at the strong safety position the following year. He added three blocked punts and two forced fumbles in the season and saw time on punt return duty.
In 2002, his last year at USC, Polamalu started in all but one game, giving him 36 total starts in his college career. Polamalu finished his career at USC as a three-year starter. In all, he made 278 tackles with 29 of them being behind the line of scrimmage, six interceptions, 13 pass deflections and four blocked punts.
Following his senior season in 2002, Polamalu was recognized as a consensus first-team All-American, after receiving first-team All-American honors from the Associated Press, the Football Writers Association of America, the Walter Camp Football Foundation and ESPN. He was also a two-time first-team All-Pac-10 selection and was awarded the Most Inspirational Player Award by his teammates. Polamalu was named as a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nation’s best defensive back.
2003 NFL Draft
In the last game of his college career against Iowa in the Orange Bowl, Polamalu injured his knee in pre-game warm-ups and had very limited action in the game that day. Subsequently, the injury caused Polamalu to miss the Senior Bowl and 2003 NFL Combine as well.Polamalu was able to perform for scouts at his USC pro day.
Troy Polamalu was drafted 16th overall in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Polamalu was actually the team’s second option at safety, as they had planned on signing Dexter Jackson that offseason. Jackson, the reigning Super Bowl MVPwith the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, even had a verbal agreement to sign with the Steelers, only for him to back out at the last minute and sign with the Arizona Cardinals instead. The Steelers then went to “Plan B” and drafted Polamalu instead.
The Chargers, who had the 15th overall pick, had a major need at safety to replace Rodney Harrison but instead chose to go with quantity over quality forgoing the opportunity to select Polamalu by trading down and getting Sammy Davis and Terrence Kiel. The Steelers, ecstatic that Polamalu slid past the Chargers, quickly made a move to bring Polamalu to their team. The Steelers believed so much that Polamalu could have a positive impact on their defense that they traded up from the twenty-seventh spot to the sixteenth spot, originally held by the Chiefs. The Steelers traded away the ninety-second and two hundredth overall pick for the rights to switch first round picks and select Troy Polamalu. Essentially, the trade was Polamalu for Larry Johnson, Julian Battle, and Brooks Bollinger (the Bollinger pick was subsequently traded to the Jets in the same draft). He has the distinction of being the only safety ever drafted by the Steelers in the first round. Polamalu signed a five-year, $8,275,000 contract.
(* represents NFL Combine)
Polamalu (left) and teammate Ryan Clark in the Steelers’ Super Bowl XLIII victory parade in February 2009.
The Steelers use Polamalu in a high percentage of defensive plays, in a wide variety of defensive roles. In only his third season (2005), he tied the NFL record for most sacks, 3, in a single game by a safety. The 2007 Pro Bowl was his third consecutive Pro Bowl appearance; he started at weak safety for the AFC, playing next to the Baltimore Ravens starting free safety Ed Reed. The rivalry they share based on their teams’ divisional rivalry was evident, as the two battled for possession of an overthrown halfback pass from former New York Giants running back Tiki Barber; Reed came down with the interception. He made the AP NFL All-Pro Second Team in 2005, followed by being named to the First Team in 2006.
His first Super Bowl appearance was in Super Bowl XL in 2006, when the Pittsburgh Steelers gained the franchise’s fifth Super Bowl (against a former USC teammate Lofa Tatupu) with a 21–10 win over the Seattle Seahawks.
On July 23, 2007, before training camp, the Steelers gave Polamalu the biggest contract in team history extending him through 2011. In an article on ESPN.com, Polamalu said, “I did not want to be a player who is jumping from team to team.” Polamalu has repeatedly expressed his intent on staying with the Steelers. The four-year contract extension, worth just over $30 million with about $15 million in guarantees, made Polamalu one of the highest paid defensive backs in the league and the highest paid safety in the league (though this distinction was taken by Bob Sanders on December 28, 2007 when he signed a five-year, $37.5 million contract with $20 million in guarantees).
Polamalu was named a reserve to the 2008 Pro Bowl despite having 0 interceptions and only playing in 11 games during the 2007 season. Polamalu’s injury-plagued 2007 season led him to partake in a California rehab program. He suffered a hamstring injury late in his off-season workout, causing him to miss Pittsburgh’s 2008 training camp. He returned to practicing with the team days after the camp’s conclusion, however. Polamalu was named to the 2009 Pro Bowl as the AFC’s strong safety after being given a unanimous vote by five experts. He was joined by his Pittsburgh Steelers teammates James Harrison and James Farrior on the AFC Pro Bowl team. Polamalu’s 4th quarter interception return for a touchdown in the 2008 AFC Championship game against the Baltimore Ravens helped the Steelers clinch a victory en route to another Super Bowl appearance. At Super Bowl XLIII, he only got two assisted tackles in the Steelers victory over the Cardinals, 27–23.
In the spring of 2008, NFLShop.com reported that Polamalu’s #43 jersey was the 15th-highest-selling jersey in the NFL. The only Pittsburgh Steeler to sell more was Ben Roethlisberger‘s #7 jersey, at the 10th spot.
In the 2009 AFC Championship Game, Polamalu was key in helping the Steelers win the game and reach the Super Bowl that they would ultimately win when he intercepted a pass in the final minutes of the game and ran it back for a touchdown, thereby sealing victory for his team.
In the 2009 season opener against the Tennessee Titans, Polamalu recorded six tackles and one interception before getting injured while trying to recover a blocked field goal. He sustained a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee, and missed the next four games. He returned to play in the sixth week of the season in a match-up against the Cleveland Browns. He later reinjured himself against the Bengals. In a Sports Illustrated survey of 296 active NFL players, Polamalu was ranked the 9th “dirtiest player” in the NFL.
In the 2010 season opener against the Atlanta Falcons, Polamalu made a possible game saving interception with 1:45 left in the game. The Steelers went on to win in overtime. In week 13 of 2010, Polamalu made a game changing play against the Baltimore Ravens forcing a fumble with a sack to set up a 9-yard touchdown pass to Isaac Redman with 2:51 left to give the Pittsburgh Steelers a 13-10 victory. In week 14 against the Cincinnati Bengals, Polamalu cut in front of intended receiver Terrell Owens to intercept Palmer’s pass and return it 45 yards for a touchdown. Polamalu re injured an ankle on this interception, but stayed in the game. He would record another interception later in the game. He missed the next 2 games with an ankle injury but returned for the last game of the season against the Cleveland Browns. In that game, he intercepted Colt McCoy before being pulled from the game (the Steelers were leading by over 30 points by then). It gave him his 7th Interception of the year.
In the spring of 2010, NFLShop.com reported that Polamalu’s #43 jersey was the highest-selling jersey in the NFL among men and women.
On January 31, 2011, Polamalu was named the AP Defensive Player of the Year after receiving 17 votes, beating out fellow USC Trojan and Packers linebacker Clay Matthews for the award (who received 15 votes). He also won the NFL Alumni Player of the Year award, despite being beaten out for Defensive Back of the Year by Aqib Talib of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Polamalu is of American Samoan descent and was raised by his mother’s family. Born Troy Aumua, he petitioned in 2007 to change his legal name to his mother’s maiden name of Polamalu, which he had been using for the previous fifteen years. Polamalu’s uncle Kennedy Polamalu was the Jacksonville Jaguars Running backs coach for five years (during which time the Jaguars defeated Polamalu’s Steelers in four of their five meetings) and currently the offensive coordinator for the University of Southern California Trojans. Another uncle, Aoatoa Polamalu, played nose tackle at Penn State from 1984–1988.
Polamalu is married to Theodora Holmes and has two sons: Paisios, born on October 31, 2008, and Ephraim, born September 16, 2010. Theodora is the sister of NFL player and USC Trojans alumnus Alex Holmes. He resides with his family in Pittsburgh during the football season and San Diego, California during the off-season.
Despite Polamalu’s hard-hitting style on the gridiron, he is known off the field as a soft-spoken family man.
Polamalu is well read in the history and theology of early Christianity, which ultimately led him and Theodora to convert to Orthodox Christianity in 2007. He makes the Sign of the Crossafter every play. Among his spiritual activities is a pilgrimage to Orthodox Christian sites in Greece and Turkey, taken in 2007. He seldom gives interviews, but when he does, he often speaks of the role his spirituality plays in his life. Polamalu has said that he tries to separate himself from his profession as much as possible, including not watching football games at home. He prays after each play and on the sidelines. Paisios and Ephraim are both named after well-known Orthodox Christian Saints, Saint Paisios the Great of Egypt and Saint Ephraim the Syrian.
During the 2011 NFL lockout, Polamalu utilized his time away from the field to return to the University of Southern California to complete his college education. On May 13, 2011, he graduated from USC with a bachelor’s degree in history. On his personal website he explained, “I decided to finish what I started and walked that stage today not only because it was very important to me personally, but because I want to emphasize the importance of education, and that nothing should supersede it.” Teammate Ben Roethlisberger followed in Polamalu’s footsteps the following offseason and finished his degree as well.
Polamalu’s hair is one of his most distinguishing characteristics, allowing him to be easily spotted on the field. In the CBS Playoffs Pre-game Show, Polamalu said the last time he had gotten a haircut was in 2000 at USC  when a coach told him he needed one. On November 9, 2010, while appearing on Mike and Mike in the Morning, Polamalu said he had his most recent haircut seven or eight years prior.
In an October 15, 2006 game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Chiefs’ running back Larry Johnson pulled Polamalu down by the hair in order to tackle him. Although tackling a player by his hair is legal and does not alone constitute unnecessary roughness, Johnson was penalized for rising to his feet while retaining grasp of Polamalu’s hair (pulling him up in the process).
In the media
In 2005, Pittsburgh-area band Mr. Devious wrote and recorded the novelty song “Puhlahmahlu”, a parody of the song “Mah Nà Mah Nà“. Guitarist Glenn Shirey said that the song was inspired by Fox Sports announcer Dick Stockton‘s mispronunciation of Polamalu’s name.
Polamalu is featured on the cover of the Scholastic children’s book National Football League Megastars which profiles Polamalu and 14 other NFL stars.
During Super Bowl XLIII, a commercial of Polamalu aired that had him do a remake of the famous “Mean Joe” Greene Coca-Cola commercial, except it was advertising for Coca-Cola Zeroinstead. Two Coke “brand managers” take the Coke Zero bottle away right when the kid was to give it to Polamalu, with Polamalu subsequently tackling one of the managers. Then, instead of giving the kid his own jersey, he rips the shirt off the brand manager he had tackled and tossed it to the kid. Greene, who like Polamalu lives a very quiet life off the field in contrast to his on-field play, liked the commercial and gave his stamp of approval.
Troy has done four commercials with the shampoo Head & Shoulders. In one, he was asked by a teammate in the locker room if he had borrowed the player’s shampoo. Troy continues to deny these accusations, but his hair gets bigger and bigger until he finally admits to using the shampoo for men who want thicker hair. Another features Troy ignoring an interviewer’s questions and talking about Head & Shoulders instead. The third begins with Minnesota Twins player Joe Mauer making fun of Troy’s hair, until Troy teleports into the Twins’ locker room and catches Mauer. The fourth begins with a teammate asking Troy if Head & Shoulders is right for him. Troy answers saying it is formulated to give him thicker looking hair and shoves his teammates head in the shampoo. The teammate sees “Polamalecules” and he takes his head out and Troy states “Polamalecules dude”
He had a cameo in the 2012 film The Dark Knight Rises as a member of the Gotham Rogues.