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Safety first: Polamalu makes Hall of Fame on first try

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 a career that lasted from 2003-14.

But as much as for the hair, he earned the nickname “Tasmanian Devil” for how he changed the way people thought about the safety position. Compact and fleet of foot at 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds, Polamalu bolted around the field, and made plays from practically anywhere. No quarterback, runner or receiver was safe.

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 rambling, cross-the-field fourth-quarter pick-six against Joe Flacco in the 2008 AFC title game cemented the win and was a highlight of what might have been his best season; he had seven interceptions that year and the Steelers won the Super Bowl.

Polamalu will go in 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.

Though game-changing safeties were nothing new to the league, Polamalu could line up near the linebackers, or the defensive linemen, or deep in the backfield, and wreck a game plan from any of those spots.

“He’s waking people up to the impact a safety can have in today’s game,” another safety, John Lynch, said in an interview while Polamalu was in his prime.

Lynch, in Miami this week for the Super Bowl as GM of the 49ers, was also among the 15 finalists whose resumes were debated and discussed throughout the day by the panel of four dozen voters. But he did not make the cut. Neither did Tony Boselli, the dominant Jaguars offensive lineman whose career lasted only 91 games because of shoulder injuries. The Jaguars are still without a player in the hall.

An offensive lineman did make it, though. It was Hutchinson, who played guard for the Seahawks, Vikings and Titans.

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