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Steelers Troy Polamalu Chris Hope

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How the Steelers’ Super Bowl 40 Star Safeties Troy Polamalu and Chris Hope Hustled Bill Cowher

How the Steelers’ Super Bowl 40 Star Safeties Troy Polamalu and Chris Hope Hustled Bill Cowher

Through the 2005 season en route to winning Super Bowl XL, the Pittsburgh Steelers were fielding one of the best young secondaries in the NFL.  They had the best safety duo in the league with Troy Polamalu and Chris Hope, a pairing that began on the 2003 Steelers scout team and through the course of that time, forged a brother-like bond as the backbone of an emerging secondary.

Troy Polamalu and Chris Hope in Super Bowl XL

Hope and Polamalu tackle Stevens in Super Bowl XL; ABC Sports

Bonding as Brothers

Hope was drafted in 2002 as a top prospect to take over the strong safety position in 2003, until the Steelers were forced to alter their plans to sign Dexter Jackson were upended and the Steelers traded up for Troy Polamalu.  Hope had spent the off-season training to increase his strength in preparation to assume the role of the departing Lee Flowers.  When the news came to him that the Steelers used a first-round pick on a safety, he was uncertain about what it meant for him. He had never played free safety before, but he did not lack in determination and took the appropriate mindset.

Chris Hope, per The Inspirational Story of Pittsburgh Steelers Safety Troy Polamalu: Jim Wexell

All I knew was that I was going to be one of the safeties on the team. I wasn’t going to get cut or released just because they drafted another safety. So, before I even met Troy, he sparked a fire in me.

2003 was a challenging year for Polamalu and Hope.  Polamalu struggled through his rookie season with the “bust” tag hanging over his head and struggled through lost confidence.  Indeed, his rookie year was so underwhelming that when he won the Joe Greene Award for Steelers Rookie of the Year, his acceptance speech bordered on embarrassment simply stating: “Quite honestly, I was really the only rookie that played this year.”

Hope had a different problem, born of out of frustration and thinking he was ready, though he would later admit he wasn’t.

Chris Hope, per The Inspirational Story of Pittsburgh Steelers Safety Troy Polamalu: Jim Wexell

The only part that made it difficult for me was that I couldn’t play until Troy played. If I played and Troy didn’t play, it would look like, “Why did we waste that draft pick when we already had Chris Hope on the roster from last year?”

Joey Porter, the Steelers defensive and team leader, had no doubt.  He commented that you could even see the flashes of talent on their “bad plays.”  And he wasn’t the only one to see it.

In the end of season exit interviews, Bill Cowher made Hope aware that he had learned a lot about him as a football player and if he did the work in the off-season again, he was being given the green light.  Defensive backs coach Darren Perry confirmed to Cowher that Polamalu and Hope would be ready to take over in 2004.

Polamalu and Hope were playing with more chemistry each week, and they were also coming together as friends. They hugged each other before games and shook hands in their own unique way, as Polamalu spoke the mantra, “Brother from a different mother.”

It was becoming clear that under Dick LeBeau, the defense was going to flow through Polamalu who was transcending and emerging as a generational talent.  With Polamalu freelancing, Hope was charged with covered for the freelancing Polamalu and was proving that he was the perfect complement, something that was not just restricted to the field.

Ike Taylor: “Bro, that’s a cold hustle

This was never more evident than on a Monday Night Football game vs. the San Diego Chargers in 2005.  In the 4th quarter of a 14-13 game, Polamalu and James Farrior had a miscommunication on the assignment and both covered Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, which left LaDainian Tomlinson open on a flare to run 41 yards.  Polamalu compounded the mistake on the next play by being flagged for defensive pass interference.  The Steelers’ defense was able to stall the Chargers advance and limit them to a field goal.  But the lead was lost and Cowher was furious.  He irately searched the sidelines for Polamalu only to have Hope “cover” for him again.

Bill Cowher, per The Inspirational Story of Pittsburgh Steelers Safety Troy Polamalu: Jim Wexell

I go, “Troy.” And all of the sudden Chris goes, “Oh, Coach, you can’t talk to Troy.” I said, “What do you mean?” He goes, “He’s praying.” I said, “What do you mean he’s praying?” He said, “He’s praying. You can’t talk to him right now.” I said, “Well how long is he going to be praying?” He goes, “It’s gonna be a while. I’ll come and get you.” I go, “Well, I’ve got to talk to you guys about what took place out there! Chris!” He goes, “I will come and get you, coach, but you can’t mess with Troy while he’s praying.” OK, “God dang, I’ve got to talk to you!” But I had to go back up there because we’re getting ready to go on offense.

Years later, I told Troy, “I will always remember coming over to talk to you, and Chris Hope would always stop me and say I couldn’t talk to you when you were praying.” Troy said, “You know, coach, I used to always tell Chris that I think coach is mad at me. If he comes over, I’ll put my head down and tell him I’m praying.”

Steelers Troy Polamalu Chris Hope

Hope and Polamalu vs. Ravens, Jamie Squire/Getty Images

All Hope is Lost

The future was certainly bright for the 2005 secondary, but it was puzzling that the Steelers didn’t negotiate a contract extension with young, hard-hitting free safety Hope.

Omar Khan stated in August of 2005 that Chris Hope was making “unreasonable demands” regarding his contract as the team tried to negotiate a deal prior to the start of the season.  Rumors surfaced that Hope was asking for a contract in the $4 million per year range.

The reality was the Steelers had a generational talent in Polamalu and it was going to require that he was paid like a generational talent.  And just as everything was aligning up for the young Hope, he was discovering that he was considered among the hottest free agents on the market and had to make a business decision that would impact the rest of his career.

The Tennessee Titans were one of multiple teams that pursued Hope and he agreed to a 6-year, $30 million deal.  Hope spoke with Polamalu and Porter about the negotiations as his teammates pleaded with Cowher about how important it was to keep Hope a Steeler, but Cowher learned a lesson long ago about not telling the Rooney’s how to spend their money.  Still, the feeling of no Hope was something Polamalu was deeply impacted by.

Troy Polamalu, per The Inspirational Story of Pittsburgh Steelers Safety Troy Polamalu: Jim Wexell

I’m very hurt by it, You spend so much time forming a relationship with somebody, and it’s crazy how they can just be gone the next day. It’s like losing a family member to death, because you’ll never, ever have the relationship that you had.

Steelers Troy Polamalu Chris Hope

Polamalu and Hope after a game against the Titans; PROS by Chris Hope: Twitter

Hope maintained his relationships and ties with his former Steelers teammates as the special bond with the 2005 Super Bowl XL Championship team was one truly forged in steel and should be fondly remembered as one of the highest value men to don a Steelers uniform.

#SteelerNation

PMP; CSM; CSPO and host of the PMI-TB Agile Podcast. A lifelong Steelers fan, I had the chance of a lifetime when I was able to celebrate Super Bowl XLIII with the team. I love talking everything Steelers from the old days to the new and look forward to working with the team to grow this platform to be the premier Steelers site.

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