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Steelers safety Polamalu says lucrative contract won't change him

LATROBE, Pa. (AP) -Troy Polamalu celebrated his new $30 million-plus contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers in typical fashion. Long after his teammates abandoned the practice field on the opening day of training camp, he was a solitary figure doing difficult conditioning along a rugged hillside.

A not-so-demanding team run was over, and the hard work wasn't supposed to start until a day later. But on a terrace so steep the average person might have trouble walking a few feet without stumbling, the 2005 All-Pro safety maneuvered himself up and down the incline with ease.

On his way down, his left foot was the anchor that kept him from slipping. On the way back up, his strong right foot powerfully pushed him up the 80-degree grade.

Once he finished, he looked no more winded than if he had walked down the street for a soda. So much for taking it easy to celebrate signing a huge contract.

Asked if he had any plans for the $33 million he'll make through 2011, with nearly $11 million arriving as a signing bonus, Polamalu said, "Not at all. My wife and I are just going to really live the same lifestyle we've been living."

By NFL standards, it's an exceedingly modest way of life, too. After signing a contract worth $8,275,000 as a first-round rookie in 2003, Polamalu arrived at camp driving a used sport utility vehicle that cost about $12,000 when new - and he kept driving it all season.

Once he got married, he and wife Theodora bought a nice suburban home in Pittsburgh, but hardly the kind associated with a recognizable athlete.

Unlike many NFL players, Polamalu doesn't maintain a second, larger home near his hometown or in a warm-weather community; he prefers to stay in Pittsburgh year-around for training purposes.

Plus, he says he doesn't like traveling and is a stay-at-home person, though he sometimes misses the weather from his days as a player at Southern Cal and growing up in Oregon.

"Oh, no, never," Polamalu said of possibly wanting to go back to the West Coast to play. "What I really wanted is the West Coast weather to come here. This is home."

He's keeping his big-money contract in perspective, too.

"A lot of people are making a lot of money out there, so I wanted it to be very fair and I wanted it to be here," Polamalu said.

Polamalu felt that way in part because salary cap issues forced the Steelers to part with linebacker Joey Porter earlier this year and almost certainly will cause five-time All-Pro guard Alan Faneca to leave after this season.

It's funny, though - for a guy who likes being rooted, Polamalu is anything but on the football field.

Polamalu's versatility and ability to be disruptive while playing multiple positions are among the keys to the Steelers' defense and the primary reasons he's now the highest-paid player in team history.

"A lot of the stuff we do, we do it just for him," linebacker Larry Foote said.

If that means lining up on the weak side of the defense, then bolting across the line of scrimmage to the other side just before the snap to confuse an offense, he'll do it. At 5-foot-10 and 207 pounds, he's fast enough to drop into deep coverage - his closing speed is among the best in the league - yet he's physical enough to take on the run.

The Steelers have a new coach in Mike Tomlin, but defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau stayed on and plans to use Polamalu in all the imaginative ways of seasons gone by. Polamalu has made the Pro Bowl in all three seasons he's been a starter.

The frustration that opposing NFL players sometimes feel when Polamalu makes a game-altering play was clearly illustrated at one point last season, with Pittsburgh en route to a 45-7 rout of Kansas City. Running back Larry Johnson, irritated with having to run down Polamalu on a 49-yard interception return, yanked down Polamalu by the long, black hair that flows from his helmet.

"The dude had hair," Johnson said. "What do you want me to do?"

Polamalu has a lot of game, too, and that's the biggest problem he presents to NFL offenses.

"I think he's fascinating," former Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "He's fun to watch because he looks like he's having so much fun."

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