More than 6,600 days after Troy Polamalu hesitantly answered the call from a Pittsburgh area code to begin his NFL career, he and the coach who helped make the call will enter the next phase of their storied careers.
Former Pittsburgh Steelers Polamalu and Bill Cowher will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday night (6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) in Canton, Ohio, becoming the first duo of player and the coach who drafted him, to get in in the same class.
"You wouldn't take my call when I drafted you because you didn't like the 412 area code," Cowher joked as he interviewed Polamalu after the safety got the famed knock from HOF president David Baker in February 2020.
"It's attached to bad weather," Polamalu replied, laughing. "Snow in April, you know all that good stuff. I wasn't too excited about that. Little did I know, it became home to me, my family, myself."
A working relationship that began when Polamalu was 21 has evolved into a friendship between the coach and his former player, one that makes the dual induction even more special.
"He helped develop me and helped me as I matured into adulthood and really played a big father-figure role in my life, much like [former defensive coordinator Dick] LeBeau," Polamalu said. "To have that confidence instilled in you, by a Hall of Fame coach. He's also from Pittsburgh, and he really embodies that blue collar mentality, as well. To not only have that sort of influence earlier in my career, it's also an honorable virtue that Pittsburgh stands by, blue collar work ethic."
Their bond, though, was hardly instantaneous. Polamalu struggled during his rookie season in 2003 as Cowher tried to put his first-rounder in a variety of roles, at first attempting to shoehorn him into tightly defined positions. Finishing the season without an interception or a start, Polamalu's confidence was low.