MIAMI — He grew his hair so long, it flowed out of his helmet and obscured the name on the back of his jersey.
Didn’t matter. Everyone knew where to find Troy Polamalu on Sundays.
The Steelers great earned a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame along with another hard-hitting safety, Steve Atwater of Denver. Also voted in Saturday were receiver Isaac Bruce, running back Edgerrin James and guard Steve Hutchinson.
Polamalu said he went six or seven years, maybe longer, without cutting his hair during the prime of his career, which lasted from 2003-14.
Selected in his first year of eligibility, Polamalu was a four-time All-Pro, was voted to eight Pro Bowls and finished with two Super Bowl rings in three trips. His pick-six against Joe Flacco in the 2008 AFC title game was part of a dominating performance in what might have been his best season — he had seven interceptions that year and the Steelers won the Super Bowl.
Polamalu will go in during the same year as Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher and defensive back Donnie Shell, each of whom were voted in as part of the hall’s special centennial class designed to celebrate the NFL’s 100th year.
“It’s a huge blessing to go in with Coach Cowher and a tremendous honor to go in with Donnie Shell because the Steelers’ defenses in the ’70s laid our foundation,” Polamalu said.
Also making it was Steve Hutchinson, who played guard for the Seahawks, Vikings and Titans over a 12-year career. He’d been a finalist in all three years since becoming eligible and broke through in this, a class that didn’t include any slam dunks — or a single quarterback among the list of finalists.
Atwater made it — in his 16th year of eligibility, no less — and became the first home-grown Broncos defender to join the Hall. An honor many in Denver believe should belong to Orange Crush linebacker Randy Gradishar.
A two-time All-Pro who won two Super Bowls, Atwater prowled the backfield and delivered vicious hits to anyone coming across. One irony of Atwater’s late-recognized greatness is that many of his whiplash-inducing hits would be illegal in today’s NFL.
James was a bastion of versatility and durability. A flashy first-round draft pick out of Miami, James made a name for himself with his ability to carve out room on the ground while playing in Peyton Manning’s offense with the Colts from 1999-2005.
“Started With Gold Teeth, Ended With a Gold Jacket,” James posted on social media after receiving the word.
Though receivers were mostly at risk, it was his shoulder-to-shoulder disintegration of 250-pound Chiefs running back Christian Okyoe, “The Nigerian Nightmare,” while mic’d up on “Monday Night Football” in 1990 that truly put Atwater on the map.
James may not have had a singular moment like that, but he was a bastion of versatility and durability. He made a name for himself with his ability to carve out room on the ground while playing in Peyton Manning’s offense with the Colts from 1999-2005. James also played three seasons with the Cardinals and a half-year with the Seahawks.
James finished with more than 3,300 yards receiving and more than 12,000 yards rushing. He won the NFL rushing title in 1999 and 2000, no small thing given Manning was revving up his career at the time. James joins Colts wideout Marvin Harrison in the hall, which will give Manning more company next year when he’ll be a shoo-in to join them on his first ballot.
Bruce was a headliner in “The Greatest Show on Turf,” the pass-happy attack run by Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner when the Rams were in St. Louis. This was Bruce’s sixth season of eligibility and his fourth time as a finalist.
His 15,208 yards receiving over 16 seasons were second in the NFL record book when he retired in 2009. But he was never selected an AP All-Pro, and some critics dismissed his stats as being more a sign of his longevity and the passing era he played in than any mark of true greatness.
There were no seniors announced Saturday, as they were folded into the centennial class. Others going in as part of the 2020 class, which was announced last month, included Harold Carmichael, Alex Karras and former commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
Lamar lands MVP
Lamar Jackson joins Tom Brady as the only unanimous choices for The Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player award. Jackson’s spectacular season drew all 50 votes from a nationwide panel of media members who regularly cover the league. Baltimore’s All-Pro set an NFL record for yards rushing by a quarterback (1,206) and led an offense that compiled more yards on the ground (3,296) than any in league history.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman were also honored, receiving Coach of the Year and Assistance of the Year, respectively.
Other award winners were: Saints receiver Michael Thomas (Offensive Player of the Year), Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore (Defensive Player of the Year), Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (Offensive Rookie of the Year), 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa (Defensive Rookie of the Year) and Titans QB Ryan Tannehill (Comeback Player of the Year).