Jason Mackey: Troy Polamalu and the 'compelling obligation' that has led to him reconnecting with Pittsburgh

Jason Mackey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Football

PITTSBURGH — Troy Polamalu waited a few extra seconds before answering the question, either trying to gather the right words or not offend. It was the polar opposite of the Tasmanian Devil approach he employed on the football field, a trait nearly as distinguishable as his hair and something that made him not only one of the most revered Steelers ever, but a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"Umm ... honestly, I don't know," said Polamalu when asked why he's become a more visible presence among Steelers alumni after largely disappearing for roughly the first five years of retirement. "I just feel it's the byproduct of what we've been doing."

On Friday afternoon, seated next to his wife, Theodora, in the Steelers-clad basement of the Babb, Inc. building on the North Side, the Polamalus were here to promote the 2024 Inaugural Resilience Bowl, a celebrity football fundraiser for the Neighborhood Resilience Project.

The Hill District-based nonprofit will hold a flag football tournament on May 21 at Acrisure Stadium to raise money for trauma-affected communities, relying on the popularity of not only Polamalu and other former Steelers such as Ryan Clark and Bryant McFadden, but Kurt Angle, Steve Byrne and a host of others, as well.

"Having a black tie gala didn't match what the foundation is about," Theodora said. "We wanted to do something special that would resonate with the city."

We'll talk more about the Neighborhood Resilience Project and the Polamalus' involvement in it, but I first wanted to address the hesitancy in Polamalu's voice when talking about why he's been around more.


There was that rainy game against Seattle in October 2021, when Polamalu was feted along with other Hall of Famers such as Bill Cowher, Alan Faneca, Bill Nunn and Donnie Shell. Then last May, Polamalu took part in an event at the Mel Blount Youth Leadership Initiative, joining former teammates such as Joey Porter, Ben Roethlisberger, Casey Hampton, Ike Taylor, Jerome Bettis and more, later touring the team's Hall of Honor.

This coming from someone who very much disappeared from the spotlight when the Steelers did not bring him back for the 2015 season, though Polamalu has denied any bad blood between him and the organization publicly.

The break likely gave him some needed space between playing professional football and transitioning to the next chapter of his life. But whatever the case, the switch began to flip around the time Polamalu was elected to the Hall of Fame.

"His commitment his entire career was here," Theodora said, stepping in for her husband. "Even though we might live in California, this is still home to us. Our kids were born here. We have such a connection."


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