Admittedly, Troy Polamalu didn't intimidate the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV.
Typically, the hard-hitting safety delivers blows that shift momentum. But his shots that night were weakened by a myriad of nagging injuries, including a partial tear of an Achilles tendon that resulted in an uneven performance in the 31-25 loss.
For Polamalu, it didn't matter that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger shouldered the blame again Friday, saying, "I told everyone it's my fault we lost the Super Bowl."
Polamalu agonizes over his subpar effort.
"I didn't play very well, and we can leave it at that," he said. "I've played some of my best games injured."
Polamalu still isn't where he wants to be physically, but the 2010 NFL Defensive Player of the Year showed no signs of a tender Achilles before yesterday's practice at St. Vincent College.
"I'm not 100 percent yet," said Polamalu, who had only three tackles in the Super Bowl. "But I'm inching in on it. Sometimes, when something doesn't require surgery, it actually takes a lot longer to heal. So, the lockout helped my injury. I didn't have to push too fast."
Polamalu doesn't necessarily agree that reducing practice to once a day will affect the Steelers. However, it's a rule change that could save his already battle-torn body, which was slowed some the past two seasons, including a strained posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in 2009.
"(Coaches Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin) did a good job of taking care of us," said Polamalu, who had 63 tackles and seven interceptions in an injury-plagued 2010. "In my opinion, it was to our competitive advantage to have a schedule similar to what we have now. We were physically more prepared than some teams, especially with the style of football we have now. It will be interesting to see how it works. A lot of coaches might be in panic mode because they're not used to this type of schedule.
"It's still a month before opening day, so I'm trying to peak at the right time," said Polamalu, who likely won't suit up against the Washington Redskins in the preseason opener Aug. 12.
Polamalu had more time than he expected to work himself into shape. At 30, he also had time to think about life after football. The lockout, coupled with classroom assignments and fatherhood, put a lot of things in perspective — including the Steelers' three Super Bowl appearances in the past six seasons.
"I definitely didn't appreciate winning one (Super Bowl) until I lost one," said Polamalu, who this season will earn $6.4 million in the final season of a five-year, $33 million deal. "It has made us a hungrier team than we've been previously."
Nothing has shaped Polamalu's perspective more than his family and desire to become an educator. The 16th overall pick out of Southern Cal in 2003 said the lockout helped him earn his college degree.
That lack of accreditation "hung over his head' for a long time. He found it increasingly difficult to lecture kids about the value of an education without having finished college.
"It gives me a little clout to talk about what I believe," he said. "I always wanted to be a secondary or high school teacher. Now, I have two more years of school to get my teaching credential. I was told you don't need (credentials) for private schools — or if I substitute."
The Steelers have discovered there's no substitute for a physically fit Polamalu, a painful reality after a gut-wrenching Super Bowl defeat.