A black and gold trio headed to Canton

One found out from a knock at the door.

One got the surprise of a lifetime on live television.

Another got a phone call.

The way they learned the news might have been different, but today there is one thing they all have in common.

Troy Polamalu, Bill Cowher and Donnie Shell are all members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2020.

Over the past few weeks the Pro Football Hall of Fame unveiled the Centennial Slate of the Class of 2020, which Cowher and Shell are members of.

And over the weekend, Polamalu joined them as one of five Modern-Era members of the Class of 2020.

It put the bow on what is going to be an epic time in Canton, Ohio, with three members of the Steelers organization being immortalized forever in football lore.

"It's going to be a special summer, a special time in Canton," said Steelers President Art Rooney II. "We will be celebrating a lot this whole year. It will be an exciting time for Steelers fans."

Polamalu got his news from a knock at his hotel room door from Hall of Fame President David Baker on Saturday night, and is thrilled to be joining his former coach as well as a player who helped set the standard for the Steelers' defense in Canton.

"It's a tremendous blessing," said Polamalu. "With Coach Cowher, the fact that he drafted me. It was a huge blessing for me to play for a Hall of Fame coach for the time period we had together. As well as Donnie Shell. The Pittsburgh Steelers defense of the 70s laid the foundation for the great defenses I have been a part of. It's a tremendous honor for me to be in the same class with him as well."

Polamalu, who joins Steve Atwater, Isaac Bruce, Steve Hutchinson, and Edgerrin James as the Modern-Era members, was drafted by the Steelers in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft, the 16th pick overall, after the Steelers made a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs to move from the 27th pick overall to the 16th pick. He played 12 seasons for the Steelers, redefining the way the safety position was played.

"We wanted a safety, targeted a safety," said Cowher. "One of the things that was happening in the NFL around that time is the tight end position became a position that was a little bit of a matchup problem. We weren't at Troy's workout. We saw it. We got some film. We thought we aren't going to get there where we are. I knew Carl Peterson from Kansas City. He thought we were looking for Larry Johnson. I assured him we weren't moving up to get a running back. We got up there and we got Troy.

"When he came, it was like wow, the skillset of this guy is more than a safety who can cover. We threw a lot at him. We put him in a lot of positions the first year. I threw a lot of things on the board and thought at some point it will resonate. In the first year it probably didn't. In the long run, what he was able to do because he is a smart player, he was able to understand conceptionally what we were trying to do. Consequently, he took those concepts to another level. His skillset, his preparation, his instincts, his playmaking ability superseded anybody I had been around. At times we had to live with Troy's decisions. Not always easy at times, but I would say for every mistake he made he probably won us three or four games just by being him. Special player and the more you are around him, the more you saw it."

Cowher learned he was headed to the Hall of Fame when David Baker paid him a visit to the set of the NFL on CBS pregame show ahead of the AFC Divisional Playoff game on Jan. 12.

"It's going to be very special," said Cowher of being a part of the trio headed to Canton. "It's a great reflection of the Steelers organization, the culture that is built there, starting with Dan Rooney, Art Rooney II has continued it. 'The Chief' (Art Rooney Sr.) started it. Chuck Noll before me with Franco (Harris), Joe Greene and that whole group.

"It's all the players and coaches that have gone through there. It's a special place to work. The high standard that we had, but we tried to do it with class and dignity and humility, and I think something like this is a result of that."

Cowher became the 15th coach in Steelers history on Jan. 21, 1992 when he was hired to replace Chuck Noll as the second man to hold that job since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger.

In Cowher's rookie season as coach, he took what had been a talented team that finished a disappointing 7-9 in 1991 and turned it into an 11-5 AFC Central Division champion that entered those playoffs as the AFC's No. 1 seed. In Cowher's 15 seasons as coach, the Steelers won eight division titles, made the playoffs 10 times during which they participated in 21 playoff games. Those 21 playoff games included six appearances in AFC Championship Games and two trips to the Super Bowl, in which the Steelers were 1-1.

Cowher finished his career as one of only six coaches in NFL history with at least seven division titles, and he joined Paul Brown as the only coaches in history to take their teams to the playoffs in each of their first six years as coach.

"I just tried to do the best I could," said Cowher. "I loved to compete. I tried to be respectful of every opportunity I was given, make the most of it, don't take yourself too seriously, learn from other people. Continue to try to grow as a person. I said it before, I think when I came to Pittsburgh, I became a better father, a better husband and consequently I became a better coach because of Dan Rooney and the culture he created, the core values he instilled. It goes back to growing up in the City of Pittsburgh. You never forgot where you came from.

"That is the one thing about Pittsburghers, we don't complain, we work. When you do, you do your best. You never forget where you came from. You do it with humility. You do it with respect. You do it to win. Those were the qualities that I grew up with."

Shell was sitting at home in South Carolina when his phone rang. The call was one he dreamt about for years. It was David Baker giving him the good news that he was one of 10 Seniors member of the Hall of Fame. It was news he had waited to hear since he retired in 1987.

"It was a long process," said Shell. "You had to be patient. I prayed a lot, spent a lot of quiet time. I said be still, just wait and let the process work. Your body of work is in, you can't do anything about it. Just wait and be patient. Good things happen if you wait."

And it did.

Shell was part of the Steelers 1974 rookie class, the one that produced four Hall of Famers in the draft. But he wasn't even drafted. He signed with the team as an undrafted rookie, coming in as a linebacker but making the successful switch to strong safety.

His numbers speak for themselves. Shell finished his career with 51 career interceptions, still the most in NFL history for a strong safety and had 19 fumble recoveries. Let's just say that number again – 51 career interceptions. He was a five-time Pro Bowl selection who had at least one interception in each of his 14 seasons.

"I think the Steelers organization is a great organization," said Shell. "The Rooneys are great people. It's faith, family and football for them. Chuck Noll did a great job of drafting. When he came in, he noticed the Steelers were trading away all of their draft picks. He said that isn't how you build a championship team. You build a championship team using your draft choices. He built that team through the draft.

"I think we set a legacy defensively back in the early 70s that matched what the people of Pittsburgh were doing, the attitude. They were hard-working, steel mill people and they come out on Sunday to see us play. We tried to be entertaining so they could enjoy. That was the attitude we had.

"Chuck believed in great teachers and people that teach and communicate. When Coach Cowher came in, he had the same attitude. Now we have Coach (Mike) Tomlin. The tradition of coaches and bringing that same attitude. I think Coach Tomlin did an outstanding job this year. We just kept that tradition going. It's there.

"It's like Troy said, when he got there, he saw the tradition we had. Guys come in and played ball the Steelers' way.

"I remember seeing the NFL highlight film of the Steelers. The broadcaster said in a deep voice, 'There are 31 teams in the National Football League, and then…there are the Pittsburgh Steelers.'"

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