What Polamalu's Retirement Means To Steelers

Jim Wexell reflects on a hectic 48 hours that served as a break point to usher in the Steelers' new culture.

The media feeding frenzy has ended and it's time to sit down in the early morning quiet, pick out some of the best music from my massive collection, and reflect on the retirement of Troy Polamalu.

So I need the best minds I know to help bring this all into focus:

* Neil Young's "Harvest Moon." Check.

* Bob Dylan's "Time Out Of Mind." Check.

* Gregg Allman's "Laid Back." Check.

* Chuck Prophet's "No Other Love." Check.

* And Beck's "Odelay." Check, check, check.

And there's little wonder I'm getting nothing done as these classic CDs spin through my brand new player.

Oh, yeah, in this advanced technological age, as I continue to fail to understand the simplicity of an iPod, it's my loving wife who was able to pick up this fancy new five-disc player that someone was trying to kick to the curb.

And so the Hall of Famers are in rotation on this early morn.

Polamalu had called me yesterday. Or Thursday. Whenever. The last couple of days have been a melded blur.

Someone else called me last night and said click counts are expected to run into eight figures, "So, yes, we'll take your entire draft series, thank you."

That was after I had finished a whirlwind tour of media interviews. Troy wasn't available to the masses, and won't be available, so I guess I was the one left to talk about this stuff. This Pittsburgh Steelers stuff.

How this must amuse Polamalu. Somewhere up in Pittsburgh's north suburbs I imagine Troy chuckling at the frenzy from afar. It's just a slice of what he experiences every day, everywhere he goes.

Randy Baumann told me during a WDVE interview that he remembered us at the post-Super Bowl party in 2009 when Polamalu walked up to say hello and pose for a picture.

Randy remembered me asking Troy about the touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald and how Troy broke it down for us in layman's terms. Baumann marveled at the detail, but I didn't even remember it. What I remember is that the sweetest, prettiest, classiest, best-dressed young woman in the entire room walked up to Troy and asked him, begged him, for a hug. Just a simple, sweet, hug.

Troy said no.

"I'm sorry," he said with a gracious smile, "but my heart belongs to another."

Now that impressed me. I mean, I forget my wife's name just thinking about that story.

Sorry, dear.

But those are moments of strength by truly great men. They happened on the field and off it with Troy.

Like him calling me with his retirement story. He could've just mailed this one in to Dan Rooney, let the PR guys announce it via Twitter the next morning, let the front-office guys leak it to the hounds at the game, and Troy still could've gotten off without the press conference that he's avoiding anyway.

But Troy, I like to think, wanted to make sure this story was told the right way.

For one, he didn't want anything in that story about his disappointment with the Steelers.

He couldn't lie, and he told me he was disappointed. But he didn't want that to become the overriding theme, because, as we saw during the frenzy, people re-write and re-purpose stories to suit their own click bosses.

But Troy is disappointed in the Steelers, and why not? It's understandable for a guy who even on one leg can still play better than three-fourths of the strong safeties in the league.

So he's allowed to feel a little raw about the guys who called him into a meeting to tell him he was no longer wanted. No one wants to hear something like that. But you have to give Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin and Art Rooney II points for doing this men-to-man.

But do they get points for wisdom?

That's a tough call.

"This IS a business. That's what it all comes down to. It is a business," Polamalu told me that night.

He understands as much. Yet he had his own wisdom to add.

"But this is a business based on relationships, and you cultivate relationships," he said. "The product of your relationships is winning."

In a slice of self-awareness to which Polamalu likely would never admit, he realizes that his character will be missed. I mean, this is a guy who as a rookie told the team in a meeting that it didn't know how to win, that it didn't know how to play for each other. It wasn't until the next season -- when Dick LeBeau joined the group and told those same players the same thing -- that the Steelers began to play for each other. And win.

LeBeau's gone now. So is Troy. And Brett Keisel. And on Tuesday Ike Taylor will presumably call it a career as well.

As the song on my fancy CD player is telling me right now, "Let's talk about heroes."

But they're gone. A new culture is in. Tomlin's culture. That new culture has been mixed with the last four players to own two Super Bowl rings: Ben Roethlisberger, Heath Miller, James Harrison, Greg Warren.

Those are some powerful and massively respected players for each of the team's three units.

And the rest of the talent? The new culture?

"Part of the reason I wanted to come back was they're talented. They're really talented," Polamalu told me Thursday night. "I think it's an exciting time to be a Steeler."

Was he just saying that to leave Steelers fans with a happy ending?


"Talent doesn't win Super Bowls," he added. "There's got to be another component there. The personality of a team changes from year to year. I do think the team next year can be really successful. How successful, only time will tell."

Time will tell if the team can find that other component, that component of strength and character and people who desire to play for each other and not for the money or the fame or the hug from the sweetest princess at the ball.

That's what the Steelers have lost this off-season. That's what they now have to find.

As the man on the old-school music machine is saying, "It's not dark yet, but it's gettin' there."

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