Steelers All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu puts it on the line with the rest of his teammates every week. Some Steelers can't help but marvel at the way Polamalu has played with virtually one arm since injuring his right shoulder against Miami in the first game of the season.
"It's like somebody going to work and they have a presentation they haven't studied for and don't know anything about, and they're coming in the room blind," inside linebacker James Farrior said. "Troy's coming in with a little bit of a handicap with his arm banged up. It's tough right now for him, but we know the type of player he is. Just having his presence out there is enough for us."
With outside linebacker Joey Porter and cornerback Deshea Townsend both listed as questionable for Sunday's home game against Kansas City, the 1-3 Steelers need Polamalu -- now more than ever. The fact Polamalu has been playing hurt since the Sept. 7 opener is irrelevant. But the fact he's irreplaceable can't be ignored.
Polamalu's sore right shoulder doesn't receive the same rapt attention as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's famous right arm, which was in a sling under his shirt following Sunday's loss at San Diego.
The status of Polamalu's medical condition is no less vital than Roethlisberger's health. Polamalu is the Steelers' version of a quarterback on defense. If he isn't right, something's wrong with the Steelers.
"He's doing well. Obviously, he's feeling better. He has not had any setbacks since the initial injury," coach Bill Cowher said yesterday, three days after Polamalu recorded seven tackles against the Chargers.
Polamalu agreed with Cowher, but he admitted to still feeling the residual effects from Sunday's tussle, shrugging it off as a painful reality of NFL life. Football players deal with pain. Polamalu's no different. If you can walk, you can play. The key is being able to distinguish pain from injury.
"I don't think it's a big deal," said Polamalu, who has started every game since 2004. "With time, every injury is going to get better. But you'll never be as healthy as you were when you came into (training) camp."
A big plus for Polamalu is his ability to block out everything once the game starts.
"Post-game, though, you feel everything," he said. "And the next day and the day after, and even days like today."
You can't play with the intensity and recklessness that Polamalu does and not be affected by a shoulder injury. It's physically impossible. One of the most noticeable differences in Polamalu's performance from last season is he doesn't appear to be as active because of the injury. Still, even with a bum shoulder, Polamalu ranks among the team leaders with 23 tackles.
"You need both shoulders to hit with -- especially tough running backs like (San Diego's) Michael Turner and LaDainian Tomlinson and (Kansas City's) Larry Johnson, but Troy's not complaining one bit," cornerback Bryant McFadden said. "That tells you a lot about the guy, because he's out there practicing with us every day, doing all the drills. He's a fighter."
So much for the bad news. The good news is that Polamalu's game against San Diego was his best since the opener, a clear indication that his shoulder is improving.
"It gets better with time," he said.
Funny, that's what they say about Polamalu.