Labriola On

Labriola on "POLAMALU"

Ready or not, here it comes:

Typically, ordinarily, you start at the beginning. But since there is nothing typical, and certainly nothing ordinary, about Troy Polamalu, this begins at the end. Or rather, it begins with the man's impact.

JOEY PORTER: "He made you change the way you treated people. You really didn't act a certain way around Troy … You didn't curse around Troy … I have an X-rated story, then I have a PG story, and if Troy's sitting there I give it the PG version. That's how he makes you feel. Hey, he's heard enough X-rated because he's been in locker rooms so many times, but there are times I tell a different version because he's there."

MIKE LOGAN: "I could say so many things. He really helped me out. I went through a rough period after my transition from the league. I went through a lot of personal tragedy and personal stuff … The way I reacted to those things was because of my observation and interactions with him, how to carry yourself and handle yourself and use your faith to get through some of those things."

IKE TAYLOR: "It was probably later, after my career, when I really leaned on Troy. For me, it was more my anger management. Troy helped me. I had a bad temper. A bad temper. BAD temper. From being around him so much , I kind of took on his temperament in adverse situations because he was so calm … So Troy helped me think before I would act."

BRYANT MCFADDEN: "Troy always taught me that you don't necessarily have to tell people how good you are. Troy taught me that whenever you're around a good individual, you feel it … I think the humility that he has displayed throughout his career, throughout his life, is the most important thing he's taught me."

The book is titled, "POLAMALU: The Inspirational Story of Pittsburgh Steelers Strong Safety Troy Polamalu," and its author is Jim Wexell. Or as Wexell refers to himself, "merely the collector and collator of the information and anecdotes in this book." Maybe so, but through 432 pages of collecting and collating, the author tells a comprehensive story of one of the most beloved players in Steelers history, and he does it through the words and experiences of those who know Polamalu best.

Troy Polamalu was not a me-guy, and so it's appropriate that his story isn't told by one individual. Instead it's a story presented by six relatives – three uncles, one aunt, and two first cousins – and 47 others who either taught him, coached him, played on the same team with him, or covered him in their jobs with the media. When you include the insight from the subject of the book himself, Wexell presents the thoughts, memories, impressions, and anecdotes of 54 people who make up what he refers to as the book's "Cast of Characters."

Wexell begins the book with a chapter detailing how the Steelers acquired Polamalu, and it starts with a failed attempt at finding a strong safety via free agency, through the scouting process, and then the events that included a trade up in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft. From there, Wexell jumps back to Polamalu's youth, and the story is then told chronologically through the rest of the book.

TROY POLAMALU: "Growing up in Southern California, we had people coming in and out of my house, and I had free rein. The world was my playground … I would come home from school and be out till 9-10 o'clock at night and I'd come home. I had zero parental supervision. So, I could leave in the middle of the night. I could leave all day long."

Wexell goes on to relay an event from Polamalu's childhood that appeared in a 2006 issue of "Gentleman's Quarterly," as told by Troy himself: "My sisters had babies in high school, my brother was in and out of jail. I'm in first grade. My brother's in the backseat of a police car, waiting for me to open the door. What am I supposed to do?"

That narrative of Polamalu's youth will surprise many, and even may shock some who have the misconception that he was born with the same sensibilities he developed as an adult. Living in Southern California and then living in Oregon, changing his name to honor the uncle who essentially raised him, his introduction to sports, and then the early development into a difference-making athlete who used his remarkable talent to escape a life that could have taken him down a far different, dangerous path – it's all in the book.

Eventually it was on to USC, where Troy showed Pete Carroll that he indeed had the hips to play safety with an athletic display, not on the football field, but on the basketball court.

MALAEFOU MACKENZIE (USC running back 1997-2002): "Little did (Carroll) know Troy's 40-inch vertical was like a Vince Carter 40-inch vertical. Any of the guys would tell you Troy was doing almost the same dunks as Michael Jordan and Vince Carter … Coach Carroll was an awesome basketball player. We would play 3-on-3 tournaments … and at the end we'd have a dunk contest, and Troy was the star of stars. Ask any of the guys about his windmills, 360s. You name it. It was amazing how high he could jump. You could tell his athleticism just by watching him play basketball."

Wexell also chronicles each Steelers season after the team made him its first-round pick in 2003, and he does it the same way he presented all of the other information in the book. He does it with the words of the people who experienced it first-hand, and this style gives the reader a sense of being part of a group conversation, a sense of being an insider to the events on the page. It's effective, it's easy to read, and it lends credence to the narrative.

The reader learns about the struggles of 2003 experienced both by the team and by Polamalu, then experiences the drafting of Ben Roethlisberger and the accompanying turnaround of 2004, and the magical Super Bowl XL championship season of 2005. These pages are filled with anecdotes and insights, personal observations about Polamalu and experiences with him. And occasionally some humor.

PORTER: "You thought you were a rock star – until you hung out with Troy. Even when we made the Pro Bowl. It was funny to watch Pro Bowlers trying to pull a seat next to him, trying to get close to him. That's how big of a star he was … Everybody that we hated, that we played against in the AFC North, there was nothing negative they could ever say about Troy. You wished he was your teammate."

Bill Cowher told Wexell a story about an incident on the sideline after a miscommunication on a play in a game against San Diego when LaDainian Tomlinson caught a pass for a 50-yard gain that led to a field goal and a lead for the Chargers in the fourth quarter. Polamalu and his running mate at safety – Chris Hope – had a scheme cooked up, and Cowher tells how he fell for it. As Ike Taylor described it, "Boy, that's a cold hustle."

These are the kinds of anecdotes that are sprinkled throughout the book, things never before told. And some of the things that are well-known are made special by the unique perspective offered by the people who were part of it at the time.

TAYLOR: "After Super Bowl XL, the parade downtown when Troy jumped out of the truck with the Lombardi in his hand, and the crowd caught him and waved him right back to the truck, that's one of my favorite memories of him. I thought, ain't this something? Man jumped off the float – OFF THE FLOAT – into the crowd. The crowd caught him and waved him back on the float. That's how much respect the city had for Troy. And that's how much he trusted the city."

And on the narrative goes, through the coaching change from Bill Cowher to Mike Tomlin, through another championship in Super Bowl XLIII, to the disappointment of the loss in Super Bowl XLV. Those are the football things. The reader also learns about Polamalu's total and unconditional love for his wife, Theodora, the birth of his two sons, his spirituality, his unusual offseason workouts. But through all of the successes, all of the acclaim, all of the money and adulation, Troy Polamalu was true to himself and what he valued as a man.

CRAIG WOLFLEY: "The greatest thing that stands out about Troy is his humility and his commitment to being a humble servant of others. You don't find that with the players today. People just don't have that attitude. I'm sure the whole Hall of Fame thing, deep down in, if you ask him, he might say, 'I'm not worthy of it.'"

But what also comes through in the book is Polamalu's fierce competitiveness, his commitment to the work required to be great, and the respect he had for the sport he loved to play.

As Troy Polamalu's career at USC was coming to a glorious close, he was doing an interview with Steve Bisheff of the Orange County Register, and during that he explained Fa'a Samoa, The Samoan Way, which he had been taught by his elders.

"You have to be a gentleman everywhere but on the field."

"POLAMALU: The Inspirational Story of Pittsburgh Steelers Strong Safety Troy Polamalu" by Jim Wexell is available now. To purchase your copy -- CLICK HERE.

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