Steelers' spiritual leader

Jason Cole
Yahoo! Sports

More Steelers: Cowher caught up in rumor mill

LATROBE, Pa. – Troy Polamalu may believe that training camp is an utter waste of time, but the Pro Bowl safety also can't seem to get enough of it.

Take Monday when the Pittsburgh Steelers held two practices. In the morning, Polamalu finished by working with the receivers on catching passes from a JUGS machine. As Polamalu came to the end of his work, he got progressively closer to the machine until he stood only four yards away as footballs shot out at high velocity.

When he was done, receivers coach Bruce Arians walked over from behind the machine where he had been launching footballs. He hugged Polamalu and said, "If you came another step closer, I wasn't going to do it."

In the afternoon, Polamalu could be seen on the field again, this time in deep conversation with Steelers defensive lineman Shaun Nua as the two kneeled there long after their teammates had left.

"Sort of what I was explaining to Shaun is that life is not about football. Football is all a part of life, so we have to face each moment and – him being a Christian – to glorify God in each situation," Polamalu said. "So we can't be overburdened with football things and Xs and Os, trying to please a coach or the media or the fans while trying to glorify God."

As the Steelers prepare to defend their Super Bowl title this year, many players are contemplating the retirement of leader and bullish running back Jerome Bettis by jokingly asking "WWJD?" Or "What would Jerome do?"

But in the pursuit of spirit and perspective, Polamalu is a deep thinker who is capable of being a leader by example.

Entering his fourth season, Polamalu has the requisite skill as a player and has a vital role as the strong safety in Pittsburgh's blitz-oriented defense. More importantly, he has a belief system that seems to stop short of being holier than thou. In other words, he's a good man who also appears to be a good guy who can fit into a locker room filled with diverse personalities and lifestyles.

While talking about his faith, Polamalu emphasized that "these are my beliefs."

"He is a highly intellectual player," Steelers coach Bill Cowher said. "He has a real feel for the game. He studies tape and he's one of the smartest guys I have been around in my 15 years. So I just respect him. When he does something that makes you wonder, you usually listen to what he says because there is usually some good reason."

Including Polamalu's perspective on training camp. In a nutshell, he thinks it's useless.

"I think Bill Romanowski said that he went into football camp in the best shape of his life and came out in the worst shape of his life," Polamalu said. "The thing about that is that people are so scared to revolutionize anything and are so quick to conform. If everybody is getting beat-up, nobody has an edge.

"Everybody is getting beat-up and we're all coming out of camp beat-up. So if someone wants to revolutionize the game and really focus on all the idiosyncrasies that are overlooked, like hire a full-time massage therapist or chiropractors or [have] one practice a day during football camp, something like this, I believe it can really turn this in a positive direction and revolutionize the game. They all do it, but I guess they're all scared … or they don't know any better."

That sounds really nice, but it ignores the fact that not all players come to training camp in football condition. There is this whole issue about trust between management and players.

"Yeah, but they choose the players who come in here and [the team gets] to choose their character, who they are, what their training methods are. I did not choose to come here, they chose me through the draft process," Polamalu said.

It's all true and the essence of what Polamalu is saying is part of his beauty. He is a trusting, hard-working soul who doesn't see himself as unique.

Perhaps that's what makes Cowher smile so broadly when talking about him, even though there are moments that frustrate Cowher. Such as when the Pittsburgh defense comes off the field and Cowher wants to talk to Polamalu. The coach has to wait.

Polamalu has a higher authority to address.

"After a series, you want to go talk to him about what he sees, but after every series he goes over and prays," Cowher said. "So you kind of have to give him his time while he puts his head down. I'm usually trying to get back to the offense to watch them, so I'm waiting and waiting and I just couldn't wait anymore. He was in a really deep thought and I just couldn't wait anymore."

Polamalu smiles softly when asked about that.

"Mother Theresa said that she got to a point in her life where she had constant conversation with God. If God, as everyone describes it, can be omnipresent and omnipotent, we could essentially be walking around and talking to him like we are now," Polamalu said. "So there was a point where I would always come to the sideline [and pray], but even during the game I feel [I'm talking to God] because the game is all about struggle. The game is about adversity, life is about adversity. The same struggle you face in life, you face in football.

"If I see somebody open over there, should I take him? Well, if I do, then this comes open. These are the small things in football that have a direct correlation to life. It is life because the temptation that football brings to you – whether it's women, whether it's money, whether it's all those different things – it helps you to become a better person."

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