Pittsburgh Steelers: Top 10 Troy Polamalu Plays

Joshua HayesCorrespondent IIJune 22, 2012

Pittsburgh Steelers: Top 10 Troy Polamalu Plays

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    Some say that you've "arrived" in the NFL when you earn a nickname. Certainly, considering his resume of fancy aliases, Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers has arrived and then some.

    The Tazmanian Devil.

    The Samoan Headhunter.

    The Flyin' Hawaiian.

    The "Head n' Shoulders" Honcho.  OK, so that one may be a fabrication...

    The Hair!

    If earning your nickname is truly arriving, one great explanation for Troy's abundance of descriptors is his constant "arrival" at the point of attack, disrupting offenses and making life miserable for the NFL's best ballers.

    During the hot, humid, football-barren summer months, reflecting back on the great plays of the most sublime Steelers is a wonderful tonic for the inevitable gridiron glumness. 

    There will be an onset of gridiron glee with the return of NFL action this autumn. In the meantime, let's take a moment to look back at the 10 greatest plays to-date of the illustrious career of No. 43...and perhaps, even dare to dream of what the super safety will have in store for Steelers Country in 2012!

No. 10: Right Place, Right Time, 6 Points

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    Last season, the Black and Gold were on the verge of a truly embarrassing loss to a Colts team that became the face of NFL futility in 2011.

    Minus Peyton Manning, Indianapolis was forced to start recently acquired veteran Kerry Collins with hopes of sparking any sort of stable play at the position. Despite having a very productive career in matches against Pittsburgh, Collins was utterly anemic in that Week 3 Sunday Night Football affair.

    Replacing Collins was Curtis Painter and Steelers fans began to lick their collective chops.

    However, if not for a certain safety being in the right place at the right time, the Men of Steel would have likely suffered a painful defeat.

    James Harrison's strip sack of Painter found the waiting arms of Polamalu, who scooted into the end zone for the gift touchdown.

    Despite the easy score, Pittsburgh had to scratch and claw for a 23-20 win over Indy.

    Years earlier, the soon-to-be champion Steelers of 2005 watched as Troy celebrated similar good fortune at a more hallowed ground...and against a more revered passer.

    At Lambeau Field, Brett Favre dropped back to pass. Instead of immediately releasing to a hot read and possibly settling for a field goal, Favre decided to wait to see if receiver Walt Williams could get open for a throw into the end zone.

    Unfortunately for No. 4, a certain safety blitz found its mark...almost! Brett spun away from the would-be Troy sack, evading danger for a split second.

    After spinning from No. 43, Favre came face-to-face with Bryant McFadden, who slammed the passer and stripped the ball from his hand.

    Without hesitation, Polamalu picked up the pigskin and began running in the opposite direction, hair blowing in the breeze.

    It was green grass all the way for 77 yards. The score would be a critical factor in the Steelers' 20-10 win.

    These were not plays that showcased the safety's greatest execution or athletic prowess, but they were moments defined by the saying "right place, right time."

    The two huge touchdowns are forever engrained on the minds of Steelers fans.

No. 9: The Falcons Flirt with Danger

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    In the 2010 opener, the Falcons trotted quarterback Matt "Matty Ice" Ryan onto the Heinz Field grass for his first dose of battle against the Pittsburgh defense.

    Both teams could only manage field goals. Ryan was battling the league's best defense.  The Steelers offense was trying its best to step up in the absence of Big Ben, but they were unable to finish drives with second-time starter Dennis Dixon under center.

    Playing a playoff-caliber squad, somebody had to step up to the spotlight during crunch time. 

    With 1:50 remaining in regulation of a tied and low-scoring football game, Ryan attempted a risky out-pattern toward the left sideline.

    His target was stud wideout Roddy White—a playmaking reception hog with a penchant for coming through at the end of close games...but not this time!

    Once again, defense reigned supreme. Troy stepped in front of the pass, keeping his feet inbounds and giving the Steelers a stunning possession at the end of regulation.

    While Troy Polamalu's clutch interception gave the Black and Gold an opportunity to win, sadly No. 43 was unable to also kick the game-winning field goal. Instead, the Steelers trotted out their normally reliable kicker, and the result was another in a recent series of alarming misses by Jeff Reed.

    Nevertheless, Pittsburgh's offense reached the end zone for the first time all day for either team in overtime, winning the game on a 50-yard touchdown run by Rashard Mendenhall.

No. 8: Plowing over Palmer

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    It was the second home start of rookie Ben Roethlisberger's career, and the 2-1 Pittsburgh Steelers hosted the division rival Bengals and promising young quarterback Carson Palmer.

    Safety Troy Polamalu, a budding defensive superstar, would go head-to-head against his former college teammate...and roommate!

    With the Steelers leading 21-17, the Bengals possessed the football on the shadow of their own goal line with just over two minutes to play.

    Fate was about to intervene, and the alleged football gods were about to bring two friends back together again! Sort of...

    Rifling a pass over the middle, Palmer clearly hoped his strong arm could thread the needle through great Steelers coverage, but Troy Polamalu's leaping stab of the laser pass ended a late Cincinnati threat.

    Now, No. 43 was about to present the "Bungles" with the first showing of his patented interception routine—the cutback run!

    Polamalu weaved his way through the athletic humanity and eventually found himself on the precipice of the goal line. 

    Only one obstacle stood in his way: buddy ol' pal Palmer.

    Polamalu lowered his helmet and shoulders, serving notice that all bets are off on the field of play!

No. 7: Samoan Superman

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    Breaking news: it's a terrible idea to allow any NFL defense to hone in on your snap, whether by not changing up your count, failing to mix up your hard count or displaying mannerisms that are dead giveaways.

    Among NFL defenders who have an uncanny sensitivity to the snap of the football, Troy Polamalu reigns supreme.

    Against Troy, here's a hint: better mix it up behind center, QB!

    Many times, Troy's herculean leaps over the line of scrimmage have caused problems in the offensive backfield, and a few times, they've narrowly missed turning into turnovers.

    Over and over again, Polamalu has been the bane of quarterbacks and centers who just want to exchange hands with the football.

    None of these efforts were more amazing and hilarious than the safety's "Superman" leap over the Titans' offensive line—and directly into Kerry Collins—in Week 2 of 2010.

No. 6: Bengal Bandit

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    The 2010 Steelers were coming off an emotional road trip. A near-loss in Buffalo was followed by a gritty, nose-bloodying win in Baltimore.

    Returning home, fans expected the 9-3 Steelers to simply obliterate the Cincinnati Bengals.  Despite an apparent mismatch, the bumbling '10 "Bungles" came out "Bengal-ing" and Carson Palmer drove his offense right down the field for an opening touchdown to Andrew Whitworth.

    Through a quarter of play, Cincy surprisingly led 7-0, and the Black and Gold seemed to be going through the motions. The team needed a charge...a jolt...

    Polamalu power!

    As part of a two-interception performance, Troy's first victimization of his former college body and regular "interceptee" Carson Palmer was his best.

    Jumping in front of Terrell Owens, Troy intercepted an ill-advised Palmer pass over the middle and raced down the left sideline.

    Bengals in pursuit were unable to get the angle on the safety, including the Cincy quarterback, whose last-second dive at Polamalu's feet was unsuccessful in bumping him out of bounds.

    With his momentum carrying him toward the sideline, a final lunge toward the pylon put the pigskin into paydirt, and the Steelers tied the game!

    They would go on to win, shutting out Cincinnati the rest of the way, 23-7.

No. 5: "Look, Mom...One Hand!"

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    The defending champion Steelers opened the 2009 NFL regular season with a kickoff contest against the Tennessee Titans—the top-seeded AFC squad from a season earlier.

    That particular season saw Pittsburgh disappoint from the king's seat, finishing 9-7 and barely missing the playoffs.

    A huge part of their falloff was the season-long health of Troy Polamalu, who would suffer a knee injury on special teams on that same opening night.

    Every fan worth their salt realizes that a Steelers team with Troy is an entirely different animal, boasting a much higher winning percentage that's no coincidence. 

    Early in the game, a healthy Polamalu launched like a missile toward Chris Johnson, taking him down with a shoulder tackle in the backfield that served as the perfect showcase of the safety's great speed and trackability.

    He's called a ball hawk for a reason!

    However, it was later in a scoreless tie that Troy caused Heinz Field to erupt with a legendary defensive play. Do yourself a favor, whether you remember the play or not, and see the video.

No. 4: Stuffing the Birds

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    What S.O.B. is it that said Troy disappears in the playoffs? In arguably the most emotional big game in modern team history, Troy rose to the occasion in grand fashion.

    In the 2008-09 AFC Championship Game, the Steelers hosted the blood-rival Ravens.

    Imagine, if you will, Ray Lewis jubilantly chanting and jiving on Heinz Field turf, celebrating with teammates while vitriolically jousting words with upset Steelers fans. Reed, Lewis and Suggs blow kisses to the crowd as they head to the locker room, overjoyed to accept the Lamar Hunt Trophy in the Steel City.

    Sickened to your core?

    Now, think about John Harbaugh and approximately four dozen men wearing purple warmly embracing, jubilant about their upcoming trip to Tampa Bay.

    Right now, you almost want to place a Mr. Yuck sticker on your forehead.  I know.

    Minus No. 43, Lombardi "No. 6" may have never been bestowed upon the 'Burgh. Indeed, No. 43 was the key factor in the Steelers securing a trip to Super Bowl XLIII (...43, for all of you metric fans out there!)

    Two key Troy Polamalu plays paved the way toward victory.

    The first triumphant effort came in the first half. The Ravens, trailing the Steelers but on the verge of reclaiming some momentum with a steady offensive drive of their own, faced 4th-and-1 near midfield.

    John Harbaugh sent his hogs into the huddle, fully prepared to match power with power. The Ravens were going for it, and the better men were going to have to win a key play in the trenches...

    Cue Polamalu, who leaped over the line and wrapped his arms around the shoulder pads of Joe Flacco, stuffing his momentum and not allowing him to lunge forward or go over the top for a key Baltimore first down.

    The huge momentous play set a tone for the AFC championship, but it was a mere shadow of the greatness Troy would display late in the fourth quarter (stay tuned!).

No. 3: Fingertip Freakishness

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    In the video, Jim Nantz says it all:

    "...and Polamalu almost makes the interception."

    Almost?

    Let's be honest. Until Troy got up and started running the other way on that cold, frosty day in Pittsburgh, everyone thought to themselves for just a split second, "There's no way he did that. Is there?"

    'Tis, my friends! 'Tis!

    Philip Rivers fired to Vincent Jackson, who bobbled the football before losing control. The ball went into the air and fell toward the Earth with nobody in the vicinity.

    Then, as if catapulted from a cannon (or, at least, some gravity-defying anti-physics device), Troy dove with his arms stretched and hands open.

    The pigskins landed just on the edge of his outstretched fingertips.

    Often, fans heckle receivers, saying, "If the ball hits your fingers, you should catch it!"

    In arguably the most athletic feat of his career, Polamalu made a grab that makes the best NFL receivers salivate!

    It was a key play in an 11-10 Pittsburgh win, and most Steelers fans will be able to tell you exactly where they were when they witnessed one of the greatest defensive moments, particularly in the regular season, in team history!

No. 2: Tomahawk Chop

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    If any player has reason to despite Troy Polamalu, it's the Ravens' Joe Flacco. Few players have been victimized more readily or on bigger stages than the bullied Balti-moron. 

    OK, so maybe Flacco is a reasonably intelligent guy. My inner-Steelers fan simply blinds me to that possibility. 

    Yet, on one key regular-season play in 2010, nobody can argue that Flacco did not make the smart decision. Afterwards, the quarterback explained to the media that he anticipated Troy's blitz and felt he could deliver the football before the safety's arrival.

    Flacco didn't even get his arm going forward in the throwing motion before Troy trounced him!

    Late in the fourth quarter, with Pittsburgh trailing 10-6 in a vicious late-season road game against their dastardly division foe with an identical record, the Ravens opted to go to the air to secure the first downs that they felt would win the contest.

    On the key play, Polamalu came off the left edge unblocked, and his sheer speed and quickness left the stunned Flacco no chance. A quick tomahawk chop to Joe's right arm jarred the football loose, and Lamarr Woodley picked up the bobbling ball for a long return.

    The end result was a goal-to-go situation that was capped by Isaac Redman's game-winning touchdown reception.

    The huge strip sack changed the entire makeup of the AFC playoffs, essentially serving as the difference in Pittsburgh winning the AFC North and ultimately hosting the Ravens in the subsequent playoffs.

    In those playoffs, the Steelers rallied from a 21-7 deficit, winning 31-24 before their loyal fans to improve to 3-0 against the Ratbirds (Miss you, Myron!) in the postseason.

No. 1: AFC Championship Game Interception

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    A few slides ago, I asked fans to envision the following scenario:

    Imagine, if you will, Ray Lewis jubilantly chanting and jiving on Heinz Field turf, celebrating with teammates while vitriolically jousting words with upset Steelers fans.  Reed, Lewis, and Suggs blow kisses to the crowd as they head to the locker room, overjoyed to accept the Lamar Hunt Trophy in the Steel City.

    G-A-G.

    Tentatively leading the AFC Championship Game by a mere two points, the Ravens had possession deep in their own territory with minutes to play. 

    A first down to Todd Heap brought Baltimore out from the shadow of their own goal line, and the most anxious fears of Steeler Nation were suddenly a very real concern.

    Could the Ravens—hellbent on avoiding a 3-0 season sweep at the hands of the Steelers, being one of the playoffs Cinderella stories and committed to winning under first year coach John Harbaugh—actually rally from a 13-0 deficit to win the Lamar Hunt Trophy?

    With the biggest play of his professional career and likely the most important interception he will ever snag, No. 43 secured a Steelers trip to the 43rd Super Bowl.

    It was practically a Polamalu patent: snagging the football from over his head with quick hands, immediately cutting back across the field with his hair blowing in the wind...

    And crossing the goal line to complete the greatest play to-date in the history of Heinz Field!