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On this day 18 years ago, the Steelers made one of the best picks in franchise history by selecting safety Troy Polamalu out of USC at 16th overall in the 2003 NFL Draft. The Steelers traded up 11 spots from No. 27 to No. 16 with the Chiefs to get Polamalu. Kansas City ended up selecting running back Larry Johnson out of Penn State at 27th overall. Along with swapping first-round picks, the Steelers traded their third-round pick (92nd overall) and a sixth-round pick (200th overall) to the Chiefs in the trade.
It was all worth it in the end, as Polamalu went on to have a Hall of Fame career and helped lead the Steelers to two Super Bowl titles.
Former Chiefs general manager Carl Peterson really wanted Johnson and he knew Bill Cowher from his days as the Chiefs defensive coordinator, so the trade ended up working out for both sides. Below is how the trade came about.
“Both teams got what they wanted at the time,” Peterson wrote in an email to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN. “The Steelers needed and wanted a FS/SS, and the Chiefs wanted a big RB. Both players gave excellent production the first 4-5 years of their careers, but Troy P. went on to a very long, and a HOF career, and Larry J. did not play near as long in his NFL career. That’s OK, because some years earlier Bill C. assisted me in moving up in the first round, to draft a pretty good TE from Cal Berkeley (Tony Gonzalez), who should be a first-ballot HOFer this next year!”
In addition to winning two Super Bowls with the Steelers, Polamalu was an eight-time Pro Bowler and was named first-team All-Pro four times in his 12-year career in Pittsburgh, along with being named Defensive Player of the Year in 2010. Polamalu was also named to the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team and is a member of the Steelers All-Time Team. In his 12 seasons with the Steelers, Polamalu started 142 of 158 games and recorded 783 total tackles, 583 of those being solos, 32 interceptions, three of which were turned for touchdowns, 107 passes defended, 12 sacks, 56 tackles for losses, 12 quarterback hits, 14 forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries, two of which were returned for touchdowns.
Polamalu also had three career interceptions in the playoffs, none of which was bigger than his pick-six off Joe Flacco in the 2008 AFC Championship Game to send the Steelers to Super Bowl XLIII, which they won.
Polamalu was nominated to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2020 and will be formally inducted in Canton this August, as last year's ceremony was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.