PITTSBURGH – Troy Polamalu has all of the accolades any player could want.
He’s got the fame. He’s got Super Bowl rings. He’s got national ad campaigns built around him.
But what Polamalu didn’t have in 2012 was his health.
A nagging calf injury robbed Polamalu of nine games this season and limited his play in several others.
With Polamalu at 31, many wondered if the free spirit wouldn’t just call it a career after such a frustrating and painful season that will end after Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field.
But barring something unforeseen, Polamalu plans on returning for an 11th season.
“Yeah, for sure. Yeah. I want to be back next year,” said Polamalu, who had played in 30 of a possible 32 games the previous two seasons before this year.
“To try to have me sit down for an interview two weeks from now, I couldn’t even guarantee that, because I don’t know where in my life I would be,” Polamalu said. “When I tell you I live day to day, I’m being completely honest. Right now, as I sit here today, I would love to be back next year. God forbid anything serious happens to me or my family, I don’t know. I try my best not to think about those things.”
With Polamalu out for a large portion of this season, the Steelers (7-8) were without one of their best defensive playmakers. The NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2010, Polamalu has 32 career interceptions – including three in the postseason – and is considered one of the most disruptive players in the league.
But he has continually dealt with calf issues that stem from an Achilles’ tendon injury suffered at the end of the 2010 season. He began this season dealing with a calf injury that got worse after the regular season opener in Denver.
Polamalu sat out the next two games before returning Oct. 7 against Philadelphia, but lasted just a handful of plays before a tear in his calf muscle forced him to the sidelines for the next seven weeks.
He finally returned for the Steelers’ rematch with Baltimore Dec. 2 and has gotten increasingly better in each game, despite sitting out practices to further rest the injury.
“To be honest, I feel like I’m actually getting my legs under me,” Polamalu said. “I missed a lot of games this year. Even the games I did play in, I wasn’t healthy. So it’s nice to actually be out there and feel good. Usually, this late in the season, I’m a lot more beat up than I am now.”
Polamalu’s improved health showed in last Sunday’s game at Heinz Field against Cincinnati. Though the Steelers lost, 13-10, he recorded eight tackles, a sack, a tackle for a loss and a pass defensed. Pittsburgh held the Bengals without an offensive touchdown behind three forced turnovers and six sacks, both season highs.
It was the second game this season at Heinz Field in which the Steelers did not allow an opponent to score an offensive touchdown, yet still lost. But Polamalu isn’t looking at the game as any kind of springboard into 2013 any more than he is the regular season finale against Cleveland.
“This year is this year. This game is this game,” Polamalu said. “However people spin it to find motivation, and to say it will carry over to the following year is how they view it. For me, it’s just about what’s happening in front of me right now, Sunday. Whatever happens next year will happen.”
The Steelers can’t wait to put the frustration of 2012 behind them.
“Yeah,” said defensive end Brett Keisel. “It was frustration in the beginning, then we kind of righted things in the middle, then frustration again at the end.”
Many of those frustrations had to do with injuries, as the Steelers and head coach Mike Tomlin were forced to count on backups at 10 different positions.
“Coach Tomlin is correct when he says injuries are as much a part of the game as tackling,” said Polamalu. “Unfortunately, that’s an adversity that we have had to deal with, that I have had to deal with.”
Odds and end zones
Tight end Heath Miller was named the Steelers MVP Thursday in a vote of his teammates. Miller, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in last weekend’s loss to Cincinnati, leads the team with 71 receptions for 816 yards and eight touchdowns. … Nose tackle Casey Hampton was named the winner of The Chief Award, given out by the Pittsburgh chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America to the player who best exemplifies the spirit of cooperation with the media put forth by team founder Art Rooney Sr. … Offensive tackle Mike Adams, the Steelers’ second-round draft pick this year, was voted the winner of the Joe Greene Great Performance Award by the Pittsburgh chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America. Adams appeared in 10 games this season, making six starts at right tackle.