FORT WORTH, Texas – He wasn't thrilled to be announced as the winner of the team MVP award he won back in late December, and so Troy Polamalu probably wasn't overly excited about being named the Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year either.
Polamalu was announced as the winner on Monday night, and in winning he became the sixth Steelers player to do so since the award was instituted in 1970. He joins Joe Greene (1974), Mel Blount (1975), Jack Lambert (1976), Rod Woodson (1993) and James Harrison (2008) in that respect.
Polamalu also is the fifth safety to win it, with the previous players at his position being Miami's Dick Anderson in 1973, Seattle's Kenny Easley in 1984, Baltimore's Ed Reed in 2004 and Indianapolis' Bob Sanders in 2007.
The announcement came shortly after the Steelers arrived here to begin the week of preparations for Super Bowl XLV, and when it comes right down to it, that is what's at the heart of Polamalu's reluctance with these sorts of accolades in the first place.
"Football is such a perfect team sport. It's hard to make anybody, especially on our team the way we play defense, a most valuable player," said Polamalu. "If I was ever a coach, I would never have an award like this because it's such a team sport. There are so many parts that go into making plays on the football field. I think people just vote because they have to vote."
Often, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award goes to the best player on the league's best defense, and that the Steelers are representing the AFC in this Super Bowl is a testament to what their defense has contributed to this journey so far. Polamalu would argue the contention that he's the best player on the Steelers defense, but there can be little debate that the unit has been proven to be much better with him than without him.
In 2007 and 2009, Polamalu missed chunks of both seasons with injuries, and the Steelers were one-and-done in the playoffs in 2007 and did not even qualify for the postseason in 2009. In 2008, Polamalu played every game, and the Steelers defense set records on the way to the team winning Super Bowl XLIII, and he played 14 of 16 regular season games in 2010 and the team is here again. There is a correlation, undoubtedly.
"First of all, it's a tremendous honor and one that's well-deserved," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "But it's also something that our football team should be proud of. Usually the defensive player of the year comes from a good football team on a very good defense, and I think that could be said about this group. But more than anything, I'm just extremely happy for Troy. It's an honor that's well-deserved, and he's one of the big reasons we're here."
Polamalu finished the regular season with a team-high six interceptions, to go along with the sack/strip on Joe Flacco that set up the game-winning touchdown in the Steelers' crucial win over the Ravens in Baltimore. That win put the Steelers in the driver's seat to win the AFC North, which in turn allowed them to host the Ravens in the Divisional Round and then the New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game. And being at home for the playoffs helped pave their journey here for this Super Bowl.
"Without getting too specific, (what Troy gives us is) energy," said Tomlin. "He's a guy who's an energy-bringer instead of an energy-drainer. It's not only the plays that he makes, but it's the confidence that he instills in others."
Polamalu has been hampered by an Achilles/ankle injury through a good bit of the season, but Tomlin came up with a program that suited everyone. Polamalu did not practice on Wednesdays or Thursdays leading up to games to rest his leg, and only worked on Fridays in what is the lightest of the three regular weekly practices. Not many players would be allowed such a schedule, but Polamalu is not just any player.
"I don't treat everybody the same. I treat everybody fair," said Tomlin. "I think everybody knows that Troy is a little different."
Different as in unique. Different as in special.
"He's got than innate sense about him," said defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. "He's got instincts that no one could ever teach. He can study, but then he takes that right over to the game and applies it. He's one in a million. I've been blessed to have players like Rod Woodson and Carnell Lake and just some tremendous defensive backs, but Troy is as good as any of them."
In a four-game stretch of the regular season coming off a decisive loss to the New England Patriots, a time when the Steelers season was at a crossroads – starting against Oakland and ending with the Bengals on Dec. 12, Polamalu had an interception against the Raiders that he returned 39 yards, an interception in Buffalo when the Steelers beat the Bills in overtime, the sack\strip in Baltimore, and two interceptions, including a pick-six, vs. the Bengals. The Steelers won all four games to go from 6-3 to 10-3.
"He's my defensive player of the year every year," said LeBeau.