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The Vertical Game of Football

–with Troy Polamalu

The Jesus Diet

Troy doesn’t adhere to a team-approved nutrition plan, either. He was on a strict Zone diet for two years, eating chicken breasts and lettuce ad nauseam. “I always had a sanity day: Friday night at the movies. I jammed everything I could—popcorn! pizza! It’s amazing the guilt those diets give you, how consumed you get with tracking daily carbs and protein. Now, I’m on the Jesus diet. Jesus said we should be more concerned about what comes out of our mouths versus what we put into our mouths.”

It’s funny, everything is going organic now when the most inorganic things on this earth are human beings

On this diet, every day’s a sanity day for Troy, as he obviously takes Jesus’ words to heart. In conversation, he pauses before offering comments that are deliberate yet generous, cerebral yet clearly intuitive. He speaks his truth, period. Troy was quoted in local media as saying he’s not interested in “spreading propaganda” for one of the league’s major corporate sponsors, Gatorade. “About that statement, I was just trying to get the media riled up, to get them thinking about things on the most elementary level—how the NFL treats its players, the NFL’s agenda, and the agenda that the whole system, the whole government has with drugs and herbal medicines. It’s funny, everything is going organic now when the most inorganic things on this earth are human beings! We shove Vicatin or Advil or anti-inflammatories down our throats, different things that we’re horse-fed [as football players] in order for us to continue to produce results and play. My argument was that water is God’s greatest gift to life. I don’t understand why a beautiful apple tree has to drink Gatorade or have electrolytes, you know?”

Troy doesn’t view striving, being intense or even riling the media as a conflict to being faithful and content with what is. “It’s never a conflict when you’re striving for the Divine, only when you’re striving for the horizontal. When you’re striving for yourself, you’re out for two things: material progression and prestige. These are self-satisfying, yes? But you’re not doing anything to better yourself or anybody else. But if we can work for the Divine, then no longer is it about us. For me, the horizontal game would be something like getting a nice car. The vertical game is taking and crystallizing this gift that God has given me. That could be extra time on the practice field, it could be reading books, meditating, sitting here talking with you. You have to understand your intent, and I think God sees our intent.”

(Spiritual) Practice Beyond the Playing Field

Troy now studies with a spiritual teacher and takes time for daily practice, but not in a structured way because “tradition and ritual can get repetitive and lose its value.” He and his wife, Theodora, prefer to meditate, read Scripture (“the Bible is the most perfect book”), and do simple exercises such as eye gazing. “We just sit knee to knee and look into each other’s eyes. You can go from tears to laughter, it’s really beautiful.”

Because Theodora (who he refers to as “a perfect, beautiful butterfly who can hang with the homeless as well as the Paris Hiltons”) is part Greek, Troy feels impelled to study Greek language “in order to read the New Testament in Greek with her” and fully apprehend the nuances of its meaning. “Greek words carry emotions with them and I want to understand Scripture on this level with my wife.”

When it comes to acquiring spiritual knowledge, Troy sees no end zone. “What’s beautiful is there’s so much to learn. The more I read and know, I’m like, wow, am I held accountable for all this now? You can’t forget once you know!”

Basking in the Light . . . and The Golden Triangle

With Troy’s contract up for negotiation over the next couple of years, he sees this as one of his next battles between mind and spirit. “There’s an opportunity with my contract coming up and all this news about other people getting contracts. I had a problem there for a while worrying about that—thinking, man, I really can get a lot of money and do a lot of really good things, or have a lot of good things—because that’s a lot of what people talk about, what the team talks about, getting this money and being secure with it. But I believe that people are looking in the wrong place if they think they’re going to have real security with that. I realize that’s not the case and knowing this gives me a lot of peace.”

Will he stay in Pittsburgh if his contract is renewed? “I’m truly content with whatever God calls me to do—if it’s football or if it isn’t. If it’s football then I’d love to stay in Pittsburgh” he says, explaining that he and Theodora have put down roots and are beginning to feel at home here. The Steelers organization has become family to him, and he sees Pittsburgh as a suitable place for him and Theodora to raise their own family someday soon, as well.

Perhaps another instance of divine confirmation (like his turnaround in the Bengal’s game) will prove to be a sign of more good things to come for the Polamalus and their new life in Pittsburgh: One day before the start of Troy’s first-ever training camp, he and Theodora walked into his now-beloved basilica at St. Vincent’s. As they knelt before the altar and felt inclined to touch their foreheads on its cool, emerald-marble floor, Troy glanced upwards to connect with the crucifix hanging overhead. “It was so beautiful, so powerful,” he reflects.

Suddenly, Troy experienced his own immaculate reception. “Church was just emptying out. We sat silently in a pew. A few moments passed. We looked up. Light was shining through the stained-glass window right on us—and ONLY on us. Sitting there with Theodora in that stream of sunlight, I just burst into tears, I was so overcome.”

This, from an NFL phenom who’s got his “A” game going on. Pro-Bowling twice and winning Super Bowl XL didn’t elicit such deep emotion. That’s because his game begins with heat, an inner flame, a higher purpose, a burning desire to experience the Divine—fueled daily with passion and gratitude for being Alive. That’s Troy’s real “A” game.

“Everyone has a fire inside them,” he says. “Some burn hotter than others because they’re putting more fuel on it. I seek truth and believe everybody else seeks truth—maybe with a different intensity, but if that’s your intent, the information is out there . . .” He presses a hand to his heart and flashes that sweet smile of his. “. . . and the information, I would say, is in here.”

Author note: reprinted from 2007 interview


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Gina Mazza
Gina Mazzahttps://ginamazza.com/
Word provocateur | creative muse | author | book editor | publishing consultant | content writer | freelance journalist | creativity coach | poetess | intuitionist | conscious evolutionist | Everything Matters, Nothing Matters

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