Safeties first: Polamalu, Atwater heading to Hall of Fame

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MIAMI (AP) — He grew his hair so long, it flowed out of his helmet and obscured the name on the back of his jersey.

Didn't matter. Everyone knew where to find Troy Polamalu on Sundays.

The Steelers great earned a spot in the Hall of Fame on Saturday along with another hard-hitting safety, Steve Atwater of Denver. Also making it were receiver Isaac Bruce, running back Edgerrin James and guard Steve Hutchinson.

Polamalu said he went six or seven years, maybe longer, without cutting his hair during the prime of his career, which lasted from 2003-14. But as much as for the hair, he earned the nickname “Tasmanian Devil” for how he changed the way people thought about the safety position — bolting around the field, making plays from practically anywhere. No quarterback, runner or receiver was safe.

Selected in his first year of eligibility, Polamalu was a four-time All-Pro, was voted to eight Pro Bowls and finished with two Super Bowl rings in three trips. His pick-6 against Joe Flacco in the 2008 AFC title game was part of a dominating performance in what might have been his best season; he had seven interceptions that year and the Steelers won the Super Bowl.

Though game-changing safeties were nothing new to the league, Polamalu could line up near the linebackers, or the defensive linemen, or deep in the backfield, and wreck a game plan from any of those spots.

“He's waking people up to the impact a safety can have in today's game,” another safety, John Lynch, said in an interview while Polamalu was in his prime.

Lynch, in Miami this week as GM of the 49ers, was also among the 15 finalists whose resumes were debated and discussed throughout the day by the panel of four dozen voters. But he did not make the cut. Neither did Tony Boselli, the dominant Jaguars...