It takes a special player to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility.
Well, there is no doubt Troy Polamalu was a special player.
And on Saturday, that was proven when Polamalu was a first-ballot selection to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a Modern-Era member of the Class of 2020, getting the famous knock on the door from Hall of Fame President David Baker.
"It's surreal. It really feels surreal," said Polamalu. "All of my teammates, it's truly a tribute to them. I feel honored and unworthy of it to be honest."
The former Steelers' safety will be enshrined in Canton, Ohio in August, becoming the 27th member of the Steelers' organization, and the team's 24th major contributor per the Hall of Fame, to be inducted. He will join his former coach, Bill Cowher, and safety Donnie Shell as a part of the Class of 2020.
"It's really an honor," said Polamalu. "I think it might be the first time a coach and a player he drafted has gone in together. I always think about that call from the 412 number. To bring it all to fruition, being here today and hearing that knock was definitely a special experience."
Steelers President Art Rooney II shared his excitement for Polamalu in a statement that was released by the team.
"I want to congratulate Troy Polamalu on being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility," said Rooney. "Troy was the kind of player who was able to impact the outcome of games from his safety position, and he did it with uncanny instincts that made it almost impossible for opposing offenses to predict where he would be. A proven playmaker who never failed to come up big in the biggest games, Troy deserves to be considered among the best defensive backs in NFL history. During both the 2005 and 2008 seasons, Troy was a significant contributor to our efforts during our drive to victories in those two Super Bowls, and the interception he returned for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter of the 2008 AFC Championship Game clinched that victory over the Baltimore Ravens. Troy was truly a playmaker every time he stepped on the field, and we couldn't be happier for him.
"It will be an exciting time for Troy and his family this summer when he receives our game's highest individual honor in Canton."
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. It paid off.
"Troy Polamalu was a unique National Football League player," said General Manager Kevin Colbert, who pulled the trigger on the trade. "He could do things on the field that he might have practiced, or he might not have practiced. He just did them. Sometimes he might have left us hanging because he got out of the schematic plan. More often than not if he did that, he created great plays. He aided in making a lot of Super Bowl winning plays. Sometimes that was scripted and sometimes that was just him. He was a great teammate, but his focus was on being a champion. Fortunately, he helped us become champions twice. It wasn't always the way it was defined to be because he could do some things so naturally from an athletic standpoint, but just knowing when to take chances and create huge plays to help you win football games.
"He has a unique natural instinct. Sometimes when we look at players like Troy, we just call them running water. Sometimes water goes where it's not supposed to, but it moves through the forest, trees or ground to get to where it needs to be. Troy was like that on the football field. He got where he needed to be, sometimes by design and sometimes by sheer instinct and desire."
He played 12 seasons for the Steelers, redefining the way the safety position was played.
"I have said consistently Troy will go in on the first ballot," said his former defensive coordinator and now fellow Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau. "I don't vote, but I sure did coach him. There are a select few that go in that first five-year period and he is one.
"Troy was a dream come true to coach and it's a tremendous honor and a dream come true to call him a fellow Hall of Famer."
A two-time Super Bowl champion, Polamalu also was a four-time first-team All-Pro selection, two-time second team All-Pro selection, NFL Defensive Player of the Year (2010), eight-time Pro Bowler and a member of the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team and Steelers All-Time Team.
"Troy Polamalu was a difference maker," said Hall of Fame cornerback Mel Blount. "Any time you can impact the game at the time at which you played and have the influence on the game at that position, that qualifies you. Troy had that. He deserves it. He was a tremendous player who impacted the game.
"It was fun to watch him play because the quarterback always wants to know where the free safety is and what that safety is doing. I think Troy was a gamesman. He played mind games with the quarterback. That is why he was in position to make a big play and interception, because he could fool the quarterback. It was fun. Anybody would tell you Troy Polamalu was a tremendous player, the best player on the team during the time he played."
His career totals include 12.0 sacks, 32 interceptions, 13 forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries during the regular season, and his postseason numbers include one half-sack and three interceptions, one which was returned for a touchdown.
And while everyone you come in contact with will happily sing his praises, he is quiet, soft-spoken and doesn't look at himself as special.
"That is why Troy is Troy," said LeBeau. "He doesn't think what he did is particularly exceptional, with the assistance of his teammates. We had a great bunch, but Troy was as productive and more as any.
"We all know what he did was completely one in a million type of athletic feats."
Polamalu was a walking highlight video, always making plays that turned the heads of fans, opponents, coaches and teammates.
There are the plays you can never forget. The leap over the Titans offensive line in 2011 at the goal line when he perfectly timed the snap and sacked quarterback Kerry Collins. There was the interception against the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship game in 2009 he returned 40 yards for a touchdown to a secure a trip to the Super Bowl. There was the diving interception against the Chargers in 2008 when he miraculously scooped the ball before it hit the ground for an amazing one-handed interception.
You get it. There are a lot. And they were all 'Troy being Troy.'
"What makes Troy, Troy is the fact that Troy is simply Troy. That is it," said LeBeau. "I think the good Lord made only one Troy and I am very thankful he placed him in our lives, that being mine and the Pittsburgh Steelers. He's a once in a generational player. There won't be another safety like him in another 100 years.
"If you are asking for one word from being his coach it would be instincts. He was the most instinctual player I have ever seen.
"If you took your coaching notebook and wrote down what are the qualities of a winning player and a perfect teammate, he would exemplify every one of those qualities and he would be that once in a generation player who would do that."
The Pro Football Hall of Fame Modern-Era and Centennial Slate Class of 2020
Enjoy a gallery of Troy Polamalu photos