Starkey: Polamalu goes deep

The Steelers finally made their new offensive coordinator available to the media Tuesday. But rather than listen to Todd Haley talk about David Johnson’s blocking technique, I opted for something a little deeper.

OK, a lot deeper.

I opted for a chat with Troy Polamalu.

I’ve spent nearly a quarter-century in this business and hope to spend a quarter-century more, but I doubt I’ll find an athlete as fascinating or as humble as this one.

Images of Polamalu’s first training camp, in 2003, remain vivid. He’d arrived late because of contract issues. He said he felt sick to his stomach on the all-night flight from Los Angeles and “ashamed” when he showed up.

Early on, he often sat alone in the Latrobe dining room, ice packs strapped to his hamstrings. So clearly the new guy. Painfully shy. Desperately wanting to contribute.

Now look.

The man turned 31 in April. Is it possible? He is entering his 10th season, headed fast toward the twilight of a magnificent career. If there is any justice, someone already has begun to carve the hair into Polamalu’s Hall-of-Fame bust (a job, after all, that could take years).

Polamalu broke personal tradition to attend organized team activities this spring, working around his training schedule with Marv Marinovich (Todd’s father) in California because he sensed a calling.

He’s one of the old guys now. His wisdom and guidance are needed. That is why you find him introducing himself to anonymous recruits in the Steelers’ South Side dining room. As if they don’t know who he is.

“More than any other year, the face of this franchise has changed,” Polamalu said. “We lost a lot of great leadership.”

Our conversation veered in various directions. There was no rigid plan. Polamalu’s at his best, on and off the field, when he is free to cover ground like only he can.

We talked about football, of course, but mostly as a vehicle to propel us toward infinitely more important topics. Like this little doozy: How does a man maintain his spiritual life amid the trappings of NFL fame and fortune?

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