State Your Case: Why Troy Polamalu looks like a first-ballot choice for 2020

Clark Judge

Until Ed Reed was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last month, Kenny Houston was the last pure safety to reach Canton on the first ballot.

And that was 1986.

But here’s a prediction: History is about to repeat itself. In 2020 Troy Polamalu joins Reed as the second safety in two years to be inducted in his first year of eligibility.

Granted, that’s not exactly tiptoeing out on a ledge. Polamalu was a decorated leader for a championship team. Except for decades the Hall had a blind spot for safeties, with seven elected in the first 54 years, and don’t ask me why. It just happened.

Then along came Kenny Easley in 2017, and all that changed.

Easley was a senior candidate, but so what? He broke the barrier, becoming the first safety … period … to be elected since Paul Krause, the NFL’s all-time interception leader, in 1998. Then in 2018 it was modern-era candidate Brian Dawkins, elected on his second try … followed last month by Reed and Johnny Robinson, also a senior candidate.

That makes four safeties in three years, and that's not a coincidence. It's a trend. And there’s every reason to believe it will continue when Polamalu becomes the fifth in four years when modern-era ballots are counted for the Class of 2020.

First of all, he was an all-decade safety, and that’s a plus. Second, he was a two-time NFL champ, and that helps, too. Over two-thirds of Pro Football Hall of Famers were members of championship teams. He was also the 2010 Defensive Player or the Year, and, yep, that’s another bonus. Of the last 10 players eligible for the Hall who were named to the award, nine are in Canton.

Only Bob Sanders is not.

But don’t stop there. Let’s compare him to Reed, who was a no-brainer for the Class of 2019. Reed was first-team all-decade. Polamalu was second-team. Reed was a nine-time Pro Bowler and eight-time All-Pro. Polamalu was an eight-time Pro Bowler and six-time All-Pro. Reed was a Defensive Player of the Year. So was Polamalu. Reed played on one championship team. Polamalu played on two.

I think you get the idea. Both were special.

But here’s the clincher: Over the past three years eight of the 15 modern-era inductees to the Hall have been first-ballot choices. So its board of selectors not only is more receptive to safeties; it can’t wait to name first-ballot candidates.

Now look at the list of choices for the Hall’s modern-era Class of 2020, and tell me how many are first-ballot worthy. I can think of one.

Troy Polamalu.

Former teammate Hines Ward once called him “one of the greatest safeties that ever played the game,” and he may be right. He not only approximates Reed in accomplishments, but he’s at the right place at the right time … and let me explain. Two years ago the Hall’s board of selectors made Jason Taylor a first-ballot choice, and, like Polamalu, he wasn’t a first-team all-decade pick. He was a second-teamer. But voters love edge rushers, and Taylor was the lone candidate that year.

Now they seem to love safeties, and Polamalu is far-and-away the best of the six first-time safeties in the Class of 2020. In fact, earlier this year one voter told me that Polamalu is “a slam-dunk” for election in February.

Once upon a time I didn’t think that would happen. Now, I not only do; I’d be surprised if it didn’t.

Comments (15)
No. 1-4
brian wolf
brian wolf

It's time for the Wolfman to stir the pot.

Does Polamalu deserve to be in the HOF ?


First ballot choice ?

No, and here's why...

Despite great talent, great range and impact, and a great career, Polamalu simply did not force enough turnovers, or have enough solo/total tackles to be a first ballot choice.

Let's compare his career, to former Steeler great, Donnie Shell, who should ALREADY be enshrined. Shell won more championships, had more solo/ total tackles, forced more turnovers, and is the all time interception leader amongst strong safeties. Yet hasn't sniffed Canton. Remember to, that Shell did all this, while be surrounded by four other HOF players on defence.

There are many safeties who forced more turnovers, had more tackles, and played more games than Polamalu. Eugene Robinson and Darren Sharper, had just as much impact, if not more so, than Polamalu, but no one, is clamoring for them to be in the Hall.

Yes, he was a special player, and his championships give him a first ballot argument, but he, along with Randy Moss, Brian Urlacher, Jason Taylor, Champ Bailey and Tony Gonzalez, all should have waited another year to be elected, because only the most special of players, like Reed last year, deserve to be first ballot.

Let the rebuttals begin.


and here we go with the nitpicking your reasons for keeping him out the first year are rather weak


No question Troy Polamalu (5/8/00s) has a HoF resume. Given that he's the most deserving newcomer, he'll likely be first ballot as well.

I can see Brian's point about first ballot possibly needing to be reserved for only the best of the best, but in practice, that doesn't always happen. Players like Jackie Slater, Jim Kelly, and Darrell Green were also first ballot, and as deserving as they may be, they are simultaneously not the top players at their position and were among the best newcomers available in relatively weak years. That combination usually gets such players in on their first try -- and it should hold for Polamalu as well if history repeats itself.


It's not an insane argument, but I'm also cautious of defensive stats arguments. For starters, tackles are not tracked uniformly but team-by-team -- and some teams are lavish with tackle credit while others are stingy. Until there's some kind of consensus on how to award them, I'd take tackle numbers with a large grain of salt. In fact, Rich Gosselin produced a really good column to that effect several years ago in the Dallas paper he wrote for.

State Your Case