Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu took home the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award this evening, becoming the sixth Steeler to do so after receiving 17 of 50 media votes. (Outside linebacker James Harrison, who received 8 votes, enjoyed the honor just two season ago.)
Polamalu's game log is impressive, to be sure. Despite missing two games, he finished with the second most interceptions in the league (7) and averaged 4.5 tackles per game. Where he really made his mark, however - as I pointed out back in December, while making Polamalu's case for the award - was manufacturing epic, game-changing plays at crucial times. (Perhaps no play was as big as Polamalu's strip-sack on Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (video) that essentially secured the AFC North crown for Pittsburgh.)
What's cool about the selection - besides it being the absolute correct choice - is that Polamalu will be playing against another Defensive Player of the Year candidate on Super Bowl Sunday: Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews, who registered 13.5 sacks (fourth most in the league), a statistic that greatly understates his disruptive capabilities. As I pointed out last week, the performance of Matthews and pass rushers like him will determine who wins Super Bowl XLV. Matthews finished with 15 votes, just two shy of Polamalu.
Now the two will get the chance to prove the voters in the press right (or wrong) on the field. Of course, I'm sure both guys would agree that individual accolades pale in comparison to the real goal of this Sunday: taking home the Lombardi trophy.