MIAMI BEACH — Steelers All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu, who redefined his position during an illustrious 12-year career with the Steelers, headlined a list of five NFL greats who were selected as modern-day entrants into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday.
He was joined by another great safety, the hard-hitting Steve Atwater of the Broncos, as well as Seahawks and Vikings guard Steve Hutchinson, Rams receiver Isaac Bruce, and Colts and Cardinals running back Edgerrin James. They join 15 other players, coaches and contributors who were selected separately by a blue-ribbon panel as part of the Centennial Class in commemoration of the NFL’s 100-year anniversary.
Polamalu was one of the most electrifying defensive players in NFL history, an athletic defender who had 771 career tackles, 12 sacks, 14 forced fumbles and 32 interceptions. Polamalu was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2010, helping the Steelers reach the Super Bowl that season, and was voted to eight Pro Bowls between 2005-14. He was a four-time first-team member of The Associated Press All-Pro team.
A first-round pick out of USC, Polamalu played on three Super Bowl teams, including the Steelers’ championship teams in Super Bowls XL and XLIII. Pittsburgh lost to the Packers in Super Bowl XLIII.
“It’s surreal,” Polamalu said. “All of my teammates, it’s truly a tribute to them. I feel honored and unworthy of it, to be honest.”
Polamalu will join his coach, Bill Cowher, and former Steelers defensive back Donnie Shell in the Hall of Fame. Cowher and Shell were selected as part of the Centennial Class, which was announced earlier in January.
“I always think of that call from the 412 number,” said Polamalu, referring to the Pittsburgh area code. “I feel honored and I think it might be the first time a coach and player he drafted has gone in together.”
Atwater, known for his sure tackling and excellent range in pass coverage, ends a long wait for Hall of Fame induction. He played 10 seasons with the Broncos from 1989-98 and one season with the Jets, a career that included eight Pro Bowl selections, two first-team All-Pro berths and two second-team All-Pro selections.
Atwater, a first-round pick of the Broncos out of Arkansas, recorded 24 interceptions and 1,188 tackles in 167 games. Perhaps his signature moment came in a Monday night game in 1990 when he made an open-field tackle on the Chiefs’ 260-pound running back, Christian Okoye, and then stood over Okoye. “That’s the hit that people will remember him for,” Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said.
Atwater helped the Broncos to three Super Bowls and two championships. He was part of Denver’s Super Bowl XXXII and XXXIII championship runs. He also helped Denver get to Super Bowl XXIV, and the Broncos lost to the 49ers.
James, an integral member of the Colts’ offense with Peyton Manning from 1999-2005, had five 1,000-yard rushing seasons, including four seasons with more than 1,500 yards. He finished with 12,246 yards and 80 touchdowns, playing three seasons with the Cardinals and one for the Seahawks before retiring in 2010.
James was considered such a good prospect by Colts general manager Bill Polian in 1999 that he traded Marshall Faulk to the Rams and took James in the first round out of Miami. James wasn’t with the Colts during their Super Bowl run after the 2006 season, but he did help the Cardinals to the Super Bowl two years later. They were beaten by the Steelers, 27-23, in Super Bowl XLIII.
Hutchinson was the league’s most highly regarded guard through most of his career, which lasted from 2001-05 with the Seahawks and from 2006-11 with the Vikings. His final season was in 2012 with the Titans. A six-time first-team All-Pro and two-time second-team All-Pro, Hutchinson was a member of the 2000s All-Decade team. He signed a seven-year, $49 million deal with the Vikings in 2006, a deal that included a “poison pill” provision that would have forced the Seahawks to guarantee his entire salary if he wasn’t the highest-paid lineman on the team. Seattle chose not to match the offer, and Hutchinson left the Seahawks as the NFL’s highest-paid guard at the time of his signing.
Bruce was part of the Rams’ “Greatest Show On Turf” offense that was led by quarterback Kurt Warner, although his career including playing on some of the Rams’ worst teams earlier in the 1990s. Bruce played 16 seasons — 14 for the Rams and two for the 49ers — and recorded 1,024 catches for 15,208 yards and 91 touchdowns. In the Rams’ Super Bowl XXXIV championship season that culminated with a 23-16 win over the Titans, Bruce had 1,165 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. He also helped the Rams to the Super Bowl the following year, when they lost to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI.