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Polamalu gets in Chiefs' hair, and vice versa



Published: Tue, October 17, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



For the first time, the Steelers' safety was pulled down by his long hair.

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Troy Polamalu made so many plays, was so irritating and unsettling, that the frustrated Kansas City Chiefs finally did what has seemed inevitable since the All-Pro safety began wearing his hair down his back.

The Chiefs' Larry Johnson, wasting considerable energy to run down Polamalu on a 49-yard pass interception with the Chiefs already down by 31 points, grabbed Polamalu by his long black hair and yanked him to the turf.

After having an offense-disrupting game Sunday in the reawakened Steelers' 45-7 rout of Kansas City with 10 tackles, the interception and three pass breakups, it was easy to see how Polamalu got into the Chiefs', uhh, hair.

Polamalu's comeback from a shoulder injury that limited his effectiveness for weeks was as important to the Steelers' defense as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's vastly improved play was for the offense. The Steelers are a different team when the two playmakers are at their best, as they were Sunday.

Chiefs' ineffective

The Chiefs never did figure out how to control Roethlisberger (two TD passes) or Polamalu, who helped limit tight end Tony Gonzalez to three catches for 15 yards in a Kansas City offense that did almost nothing.

On some series, it almost seemed as if Polamalu was on offense, his name was getting called so much.

"He's such an instinctive guy," coach Bill Cowher said. "When he plays like that, he's all over the field. He makes a number of plays for you."

Afterward, Polamalu clearly didn't want to talk about the hair-yanking incident, which he knows will be replayed constantly on the highlights shows.

"If you know somebody with long hair, you take your hand and run it through somebody's hair, it's going to get stuck," Johnson said. "That's what happened. It wasn't like I was trying to jerk him around after I made the tackle."

Polamalu, a two-time Pro Bowl safety in his first two seasons as a starter, wears the hair long as a tribute to his Samoan heritage.

He understands he takes the risk of being tackled by it on plays such as the one Sunday -- just as running backs Ricky Williams and Edgerrin James once risked the same thing by wearing their hair long.

"I'm glad it happened," Polamalu said. "It means I've got the ball in my hands."

First to do it

That Johnson happened to be the first to yank Polamalu by the hair seems a curious coincidence. At the 2003 draft, the Steelers traded up 11 spots in the first round with Kansas City so they could draft Polamalu. The Chiefs with their lower pick, took Johnson, who last year led the AFC with 1,750 yards rushing.

"It's the only thing I could get my hands on," Johnson said.

Still, as Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said at the Super Bowl, he doesn't care if Polamalu lets his hair grow another foot as long as he keeps making interceptions.

"If I've got the ball in my hands, they can tackle me all day like that," Polamalu said. "He can tackle me by my hair or my ankles. It doesn't matter, I understand that the nature of the game is that things like that can happen, and there's no bad blood at all."

Even if there seemed to be some of it on the Chiefs' sideline, where microphones picked up some intense debates among the players about why each side of the ball was being pushed around like it was.

They weren't discussing whether Polamalu should wear mousse or get his locks trimmed so they fit under his helmet, either.

The Steelers (2-3), now back in the AFC North race after being well off the lead only a few weeks into the season, can only hope the rest of their opponents keep coming up empty-handed when they play them. Or at least clutching at nothing but Polamalu's hair.

Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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