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CANTON, Ohio – A battle with Covid shouldn’t keep Troy Polamalu from being in his class Induction ceremonies to join the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday night.
The tough security that was so flamboyant and meek on the field came a little late for the party, but it was mostly there – the inauguration that was taking place at Tom Benson Stadium.
Polamalu joined former trainer Bill Cowher and another super security guard, Donnie Shell, as part of the 2020 20-man Centennial class. Former Pitt offensive lineman Jimbo Covert of Freedom High School was also inducted.
Polamalu, whose participation was questioned until Saturday because of a positive Covid test, was the 10th of 12 invited to speak. It was clearly the favorite among the thousands of Steelers fans who made the two-hour drive to the festivities.
The applause was so great for Polamalu that he paused to take it in. Then he threw his arms in the air to applaud or more. Steeler Nation committed.
« I love soccer, » he said. « It’s been my whole life since I can remember. »
Polamalu was certainly the first Hall of Fame inductee to quote Charles Dickens and Beethoven in his introductory speech. He said that such artists influenced his life from an early age.
« These great men were known for their animal-like work ethic, » he said, « coupled with an unwavering ability to create to perfection beyond what most believed the human body would allow. »
The Steelers were well represented on the podium among the gold jackets. Among the Hall of Famers returning for the ceremony were Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Mel Bount, Dermontti Dawson, and Rod Woodson. Pitt legends Dan Marino and Tony Dorsett were also in attendance.
A week after his positive test was revealed, Polamalu received medical travel authorization and arrived in Canton on Friday evening. Although he missed the gold jacket award on Friday, he attended the Hall of Fame parade on Saturday morning.
Polamalu wore a pink mask and was presented on Saturday night with Commissioner Roger Goodell and Hall of Fame President and CEO David Baker.
His appearance on stage resulted in a « Here we go Steelers, here we go » singing.
Polamalu accepted his Samoan heritage and took the stage wearing a red lei draped over his gold jacket. He credited Cowher for teaching his players « to embody the Yinzer spirit of hard work, humility and toughness coupled with loyalty so that we can accurately represent the city of Pittsburgh. »
Cowher was introduced by Team President Art Rooney II and was the last of a dozen newcomers to speak. He patted his chest in agreement as the fans cheered his performance.
Cowher said it was « incredible » to be anchored on the same weekend as two of the players he helped draft – Polamalu and guard Alan Faneca, who will be picked up on Sunday.
« To all the guys who played for me, thank you for your sacrifice, dedication and trust, » said Cowher.
Cowher recalled Rooney giving him a set of rosary beads before the Steelers took their eight straight wins in 2005 and became the first No. 6 to win the Super Bowl.
« I said, ‘Dan, I’m not Catholic,' » Cowher said. “Without missing a beat, Dan said, ‘Coach, it doesn’t matter. Every little bit helps. ‘ »
Shell was the first in the Steelers contingent to take the podium. He chose not to be introduced by any member of the organization and instead selected his eldest daughter, April, to reveal his bust.
« It’s been a long road, but a good one, » said Shell, who had to wait three decades to be elected to the Hall of Fame.
As an unoccupied free agent from the state of South Carolina in 1974, Shell remembered a reporter who tried to interview him at his first training camp. He was taken aback when the reporter said Shell was a long way to form the team.
« In fact, he was right, » said Shell. “When the facts get in the way of your goal, you have to go against the grain to achieve your goal. So I looked him straight in the eyes and said, ‘Mister, I’m from South Carolina State University, and trainer Willie Jeffries said I can do what I want when I get to training camp. I have a good chance of forming this team.
« What I liked about Chuck Noll was that he didn’t care where you came from or which college you went to, but are you self-motivated? »
Shell said he was one of 13 rookies to join the team this year. Five are now anchored in the canton.
Properly motivated, Shell had 51 career interceptions, most from strong security in NFL history.
He credited his parents for providing proper foundation and guidance during their childhood in Conway. His father worked in the steel mill and also had a side job as a supplier of furniture for Sears. His mother worked at J.C. Penney.
« I never had to look far for role models, » he says, « because they were right at the end of the hall. »
Covert thanked Pitt head coach Jackie Sherrill and position coach Joe Moore for telling the converted defensive lineman that one day he would be an All-American.
Joe Rutter is a contributor to Tribune Review. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or on Twitter.
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