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Polamalu not your average player

first_imgPITTSBURGH — Somewhere from hidden corners of restaurants, Troy Polamalu and his wife, Theodora, are watching. They’re not looking for anyone in particular perhaps an older couple who look like they’ve been married a long time or a family they can see is enjoying having a meal in each other’s company. Just somebody who touches them. Then, quietly, they ask their server for that table’s bill and cover it. “We like to spot a couple, just see somebody that makes us think, ‘Man, they’re having such a beautiful time. Let’s make this even more beautiful for them and share this blessing that we’ve received,” ” Polamalu said. As compliments go, it’s not a bad one to Polamalu. He grew up in a family of football players, a half dozen relatives having excelled at it. His brother, Kaio Aumua, played at UTEP; his cousin, Nicky Sualua, played at Ohio State and then with the Bengals and Cowboys; and his uncle, Kennedy Pola, was a fullback at USC and now is the Jaguars running backs coach. Polamalu figures one of the first sentences he uttered was that he wanted to be a football player. Still, he never envisioned himself as just a football player. “Some people are attracted to acting or any big job for the prestige,” said Polamalu, 24, who has been named to the Pro Bowl the last two seasons. “But some people act because they love to act and some people play football because they love to play football. I have the feeling I have a calling to play football. “I won’t say I don’t do it for the fans, but I don’t do it for prestige and to get my face out there so I can be famous.” If there is a trait Polamalu carries with him on the football field or away from it, it is passion. On the field, it shows up in the frenetic way he bounces around the field, leading Hope to dub him the Tasmanian Devil. Or the way he diligently studies film. Away from football, it is evident in the way he pours himself into whatever interests him at the moment. In high school, near his hometown of Tenmile, Ore., (pop. 701), it was wood-carving, which he learned at the knee of his woodshop teacher. Polamalu made cabinets, mirrors, end tables and coffee tables that he sold to make money. At USC, he learned to play the piano and read music, and also began to explore his Island roots, joining Polynesian dance clubs and picking up the Samoan language. His more recent interests include growing orchids and learning to fly fish, hobbies that don’t quite fit under the rubric of “when in Pittsburgh …” Polamalu smiles when he’s asked how many of his teammates would be interested in these pursuits, noting that he prefers reggae to rap and probably feels more at home with the veterans who have families. But it doesn’t seem to be an issue with him or them. “Troy doesn’t like to party, he doesn’t like to hang out with the fellas, but that doesn’t make him a black (sheep) or a loner,” Hope said. “He’s different but that’s who he is.” He hasn’t cut his black, wavy locks, which hang down over the back of his shoulder pads, since he was a sophomore at USC. Actually, the idea started out as a lark. “In college, you don’t care about these things,” Polamalu said. “Then all of a sudden it started to become my fifth appendage. I’m too scared to cut it off now.” Most of the time, Polamalu keeps it under wraps. In practice it’s tucked under his helmet. Afterward, he dresses at his locker with it wrapped up in a towel and leaves with it tied in a bun. As a rookie, he planned to keep his hair under his helmet until he had earned a starting role. “Then we go to San Francisco on a Monday night game and Ronnie Lott was there, I think getting his number retired, and I was back in California, the air was great, the energy was there I finally just let it out,” he said. “Some people say it’s a Samson thing, but I don’t think so. I didn’t take a Nazarene vow or anything. It’s just hair. The best explanation is that throughout history every great warrior the Greeks, the Samurais, the American Indians, the Mongolians, you name it had long hair and would dress it before battle. I don’t know why today is so different. In the military you’ve got to have short hair. “If there’s significance, it’s that you let everything loose on game day.” It’s the one day of the week that Polamalu isn’t so soft-spoken or thoughtful, where he can play the role of the great warrior. It’s the one day when he is more likely to hand someone his lunch, rather than pay for it. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREGift Box shows no rust in San Antonio Stakes win at Santa Anita He speaks softly and gently, as if in an amplified whisper. If the subject is not Xs and Os, for which his answers are brief and rote, he is thoughtful and engaging. “He has an intellectual bent to him. He likes to know the why and wherefore,” defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. “He’s probably the exact opposite on the field.” In the locker room, Polamalu is considered a good teammate but not one of the guys. When teammates at USC tried to drag him to parties at the Playboy Mansion, he passed. Not once in his three years in Pittsburgh, he says, has he been out to a bar or night club. He’d rather be home with Theodora and their three dogs, studying video, reading, or pursuing his passions outside of football, which have ranged over the years from cultivating orchids and wood-carving to fly fishing and wine making. “The stereotype of the pro athlete the guy who flaunts his money, has lots of cars, jewelry, women,” said fellow Steelers safety Chris Hope. “That’s not Troy.” center_img Such random acts of kindness might surprise people who know the Steelers All-Pro safety only for his wild hair and wild-eyed play, which seems to earn him as many personal-foul penalties as it does plaudits. But when Polamalu, who will lead Pittsburgh into Indianapolis in an AFC Divisional Playoff today, sheds his uniform and wraps his hair into a bun, it’s as if he’s transformed, from warrior to ascetic. last_img read more