Polamalu has kept his distance after forced Steelers retirement
February 17, 2016 12:00 AM
Troy Polamalu and his wife, Theodora, ascend the stage to present an award.
Dapper Dan Awards: Theodora and Troy Polamalu
After playing 12 years for the Steelers, Mr. Polamalu has stayed away from team functions.
Cleveland Browns' Travis Benjamin breaks away from the Steelers' Troy Polamalu during a game at Heinz Field in September 2014.
Gene J. Puskar/ Associated Press
By Ed Bouchette / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Troy Polamalu’s avoidance of most things Steelers might ease tonight, along with perhaps some hurt feelings that spawned it, when he is expected to attend the 80th Dapper Dan Dinner & Sports Auction that will honor former teammate Antonio Brown as Sportsman of the Year.
After playing 12 years for the Steelers, Polamalu has stayed away from team functions since his “forced” retirement from the team last year. The safety made eight Pro Bowls with the Steelers and earned NFL defensive player of the year honors in 2010.
He was among the best and most popular players in franchise history, voted to its 75th anniversary team, and is a strong candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame after he becomes eligible in four years. Yet Polamalu even skipped the team’s Super Bowl XL 10-year anniversary gathering last fall.
He has not come around the team’s South Side facility, and if he attended any Steelers games last fall, it was not evident. He did attend a Pirates game in May during which the baseball team paid tribute to him as he and some teammates, along with Franco Harris, watched from a private box. Polamalu also has been seen at Penguins games since his retirement.
Polamalu and his wife, Theodora, also are often spotted at social events around the city. For example in December, the Troy & Theodora Polamalu Foundation Fund and the Harry Panos Fund for Veterans were involved in bringing a dream wedding to life for Hannah and Matthew Brown, an Army veteran, part of a Warrior Wedding Giveaway, at Downtown’s Hotel Monaco.
But Polamalu has pretty much kept his distance from the Steelers, even though he lives in the North Hills and his two sons attend school here. Polamalu announced his retirement in April in a phone call to sportswriter Jim Wexell.
“I don’t think that there’s any bad feelings on his part,” Marvin Demoff, his longtime agent, told the Post-Gazette. “I really don’t. I think that in his own way he just had to step away from football — ESPN, the NFL Network, anything involved in football.’’
The Dapper Dan is the charity wing of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. There will be a heavy Steelers presence at tonight’s dinner at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, including team president Art Rooney II, to help honor Brown.
Steelers minority owner Rob Citrone and his wife, Cindy, will be presented the Dr. Freddie Fu Sports Leadership Award for their philanthropy work. The Citrones also have had a long relationship with Polamalu and his charitable foundation.
Before the 2014 season, Polamalu signed a three-year contract with the Steelers that paid him a signing bonus of $6,750,000 and a salary of $1.5 million in 2015. But the salary-cap-strapped Steelers told him about this time last year that if he did not retire, he would be released, something they did not want to do.
They gave him time to think about it, and Polamalu went to his native California to do just that. He wanted to play again in 2015, but only with the Steelers. He had offers from other teams, including the Tennessee Titans, a staff that Dick LeBeau had just joined after his mutual parting with the Steelers as their defensive coordinator.
“I think that’s true, that he was disappointed,” Demoff said of the Steelers’ decision to cut ties with Polamalu. “But he didn’t want to pursue anything else other than the Steelers. He had other opportunities in broadcasting and playing. The answer was always no.”
Demoff said hearing the news from the Steelers came as a blow to Polamalu because he had not thought about not playing in 2015.
“I don’t think he gave it much thought about leaving as he probably should have,” Demoff said.
Keeping his distance from the Steelers over the past year has “nothing to do with anything about the Steelers,” Demoff insisted. “It’s just his way to try to separate himself from the game.”
That was the same sentiment a Steelers source expressed to the Post-Gazette about Polamalu ultimately embracing the organization again and his stature among the best players in its history.
“Sometimes, it just takes some time,” he said.
Ed Bouchette: email@example.com and Twitter @EdBouchette.
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