For as long as it has been in existence, the award has been debated on its most basic level.
What does Most Valuable Player mean? Is he the player who has had the best year? Or is he the player his team can least afford to be without?
Well, in 2010 Troy Polamalu was both to the Steelers, and so it was no surprise when he was voted the team's MVP Award, somewhat surprisingly for the first time in what already is an outstanding career.
That the Steelers believed Polamalu could be a special player can be traced all the way back to the first day of the 2003 NFL Draft. For the first time in franchise history, the Steelers traded up in the first round to draft a player they really wanted, and that player turned out to be Polamalu.
Since then, he has been named to six Pro Bowls, five as a starter, and twice he was voted to the Associated Press first-team All-Pro Team. Polamalu never has been real impressed with himself after receiving any of those accolades, and so it was when it came time to accept this individual award.
"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."
Football is the ultimate team sport, yes, but there also can be little argument that the Steelers defense is different, it's better, with Polamalu than it is without him. The injuries that ruined his 2007 and 2009 seasons serve as evidence, and so do the back-to-back games he missed with the lower leg injury he had aggravated the previous week, on Dec. 12 while making two interceptions to key a win over Cincinnati.
"I struggled with the injury for about a month before I missed the first game," said Polamalu. "It feels better than then. We just don't want any real setbacks, hopefully, before the playoffs."
Going into the regular season finale, a game he also might miss because of the same injury, Polamalu had 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.
In a four-game stretch – all of them wins – 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.
"There are so many different parts that go into making plays," said Polamalu. "The Buffalo play was made by Willie Gay, who actually broke up the pass. The Baltimore play was a great call. Anybody could have made that play, because nobody tried to block me or anything like that. I'm honestly not trying to be humble – this is the truth. The play against Cincinnati was made by Bryant McFadden. He broke up the timing a little bit on the route by Terrell Owens.
"Sometimes what you guys see is probably not what makes the play. It takes pressure to make a quarterback hesitant. It takes great coverage for somebody to get a sack. The plays that we see being made are not the plays you see being made, from a fan's perspective. That's why, especially on this defense, it takes 11 guys to make a play."
It takes 11 guys, but Polamalu is a special one of those 11.
"This guy has intuition, has innate awareness and ability," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "He probably trusts his more than anybody else I've ever been around. When he makes a decision to take a calculated risk, he's 10 toes in on it. He's full-steam ahead. That's courage of conviction."