"Troy being Troy."
That is something that has been uttered time and time again by Troy Polamalu's teammates, coaches, and even those who had the unenviable challenge of playing against him.
And on one of the biggest stages in his sport, the Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony for his Class of 2020, everyone saw "Troy being Troy."
He opened his heart, he was humble, he deflected credit and he created a Steelers creed with words that fully encompassed what the organization is about.
Polamalu, who tested positive for COVID leading up his enshrinement, was cleared in time to take part in the enshrinement ceremony, even receiving his Gold Jacket at the start of the night, after missing it the night before.
Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau, Polamalu's former defensive coordinator, helped him unveil his bust. A bust that fittingly showed off his incredible hair.
Polamalu, who was definitely moved by it all, said it plain and simple.
"I love football," the newly minted Hall of Famer said.
And football, well, it loves him. The cheers were as loud as ever heard and Terrible Towels were everywhere, even waved by fans wearing other team's jerseys.
"You guys, thank you," said Polamalu to the crowd. "Congratulations to the Class of 2020, Class of 2021, and welcome back to all the Gold Jackets. Your presence, without a doubt is most definitely felt. Thank you for being here.
"I love football. I love football. It was my entire life, since as long as I can remember. I fostered an obsession with the game early on that I modeled after meticulous regimens of some of the greatest artists of past: Dickens, Beethoven, Demosthenes. These great men were known to have a beast-like work ethic, coupled with an unwavering ability to create until perfection beyond what most believe the human body will allow.
"To me, that's what it takes from being ordinary to extraordinary. It is the willingness to push beyond what the brain says the body is possible and create a new order of boundaries for one's self. It is the ability to learn from greatness around you and curate for yourself a unique version of their efforts.
"Football challenged me mentally, physically and spiritually, in a way that no other feature of life could, so I was hooked. I had to succeed in order to quench this desire, or I knew I would've lived a life without direction."
As Polamalu stood on the stage, he did what he always does. He deflected the attention away from himself.
There was no patting himself on the back. No giving himself credit. Not even close. Because that wouldn't have been "Troy being Troy."
"Thank you to everyone who has been a part of my journey to make this feat possible," said Polamalu. "To give me the opportunity to live my passion fulfilled and rest knowing that I achieved my objective."
His achievements are beyond compare. It takes a special player to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility. Polamalu was a special player and then some.
Polamalu, who was joined by his former coach, Bill Cowher and former Steelers safety Donnie Shell as a part of the Hall of Fame Class of 2020, was drafted by the Steelers in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft, the 16th selection overall. He played 12 seasons for the Steelers, playing every snap with a passion that endeared him to the fans.
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.
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.
But for Troy, it was all about those around him, those he shared the football stage with.
And it was about playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers, protecting the legacy the team has built, a legacy where older players help younger players, even if it means losing their job to them. In Polamalu's case, the older player was safety Mike Logan.
And in explaining what transpired, Polamalu explained the Steelers' culture in a way like no other.
"Mike Logan, the starting safety my rookie year, shared his full knowledge of the game, wholeheartedly showing a level of humility that helped shape my career. Like many other teammates, his selflessness paved a greater opportunity for others at his own expense.
"It is unnatural in the most competitive environment to train your replacement. Yet this is our culture, Steeler culture. These virtues I learned while playing for the Steelers are what make the legacy of the black and gold timeless. They are passed down in the locker room from the Steel Curtain to anyone who valiantly wears the black and gold, creating a brotherhood that is deeper than money, business and winning.
"To be a Steeler is to consider others before you consider yourself. To protect your brother, even from himself. To give support at your own expense. And when wearing the black and gold suit of armor, make sure nobody desecrates it, disrespects it. Most importantly we ourselves don't dishonor it.
"The only approval any Steeler should seek is the early approval from previous legends who have donned the black and gold. And if you've really earned the respect, they'll say, you could have played with us."
With that, Hall of Famer Franco Harris smiled and nodded in agreement, knowing it's special when he and his teammates from the 70s utter the words, 'you could have played with us.'
Polamalu didn't stop there, though.
"What I truly appreciate about the Steeler way, is that at its core it's success of a family, a culture based on the essential virtues any person respects and honors. Humility, passion, resilience, service and legacy."
Those are all virtues Polamalu possesses, virtues he lives by; virtues he brought with him to the Steelers, grew during his time there, and have never left him.
What else never left him, is his love for those who touched him dearly while he wore the black and gold, starting from the moment he arrived in Pittsburgh until the end of his career.
"My first real introduction to the NFL was that our first padded practice with Hines Ward and I hit it," shared Polamalu. "It was my legs that subsequently buckled and he held me up like a toddler and said, 'I'm not like any other wide receiver.' Hines, I look forward to sharing the stage with you one day.
"My locker partner and mentor unfortunately was a Notre Dame running back, whose name doesn't need to be mentioned. Jerome (Bettis), I know you wish you could have been here but your life experience and knowledge spoke a language that I was accustomed to from my older brothers and cousins that looked out for me. Thank you so much.
"The patriarch of Steelers football, Joe Greene. He defined the standard that we would all struggle to emulate decades later. When Joe was at the front office, the scouting department elated for a defensive prospect, sought Joe's approval. He wouldn't give it because this prospect didn't properly retaliate when slapped. This story planted deep in my psyche when a rival opponent stood over me during a game. Let's just say the NFL made more money that day.
"No matter how times have changed as Coach (Mike) Tomlin, often says the standard is the standard.
"My rookie year was a challenge. I couldn't make a play of any significance. I recall reading the newspaper early in the season, labeling me a first-round bust. When I vowed not to read any sports hoping it would somehow change, Mr. Dan Rooney approached me for our very last game and said, "Don't pay attention to what they're saying about you, I think you're doing fine." I said, "Mr. Rooney, they're still talking bad about me?'
"Coach Cowher would teach us to embrace misery, by forcing us to practice outside, no matter the weather, recalibrating us to love the hot, humid camp days and bask in the bitter cold frost of game days. He instructed us to embody the Yinzer spirit of hard work, humility, and toughness, coupled with loyalty so that we can accurately represent the City of Pittsburgh. Thank you, Coach."
And while football was a major part of his speech, so was his family and his American Samoan heritage.
"I received spiritual guidance from a saint," said Polamalu. "And for those who know my wife Theodora truly understand how blessed I am. Baby, thank you seems so disingenuous. I love you. Please forgive me for not always being a Hall of Famer in every aspect of my life. Boys, the best thing I could do for you guys is love your mother. I love you guys. Thank you, thank you for holding me accountable."
In a moment that touched so many in his family, he took his hair out of a ponytail holder, pulled his hair down, and let his long locks flow to the delight of all.
"I come from a culture where discipline, humility and respect are not only the foundation to our survival, but the key to our existence," said Polamalu. "I am a first-generation American Samoan and proudly representing my family's lineage to America through the NFL."
Before he finished, there was one final thought he wanted to share.
"I'm a follower, everyone's little brother, nephew, and son," he said. "I love God. I love and thank God for my life, because I have all of you, my family, the biggest family in the world, Steeler Nation. Thank you."