Steelers safety Troy Polamalu could have been a Navy SEAL had he not been selected with the 16th pick out of Southern Cal in 2003.
Polamalu has the toughness, discipline and character to survive the grueling training required to be among the Navy's elite. Furthermore, a necessary prerequisite for a SEAL is the ability to rally troops in the face of adversity.
"I've always wanted to be in the military," Polamalu said. "In fact, I always wanted to be a Navy SEAL just because of my interest in training."
In the past, no one has lifted the performance of his teammates like Polamalu. Even though he spent much of this season nursing an injured calf, he provided leadership for the top-ranked defense in the NFL.
While football has become a big part of his life, Polamalu is passionate about his support of the country's servicemen. And he's joined in that support by the Steelers organization and teammates, including offensive lineman Doug Legursky, defensive end Brett Keisel and running back Jonathan Dwyer, all with family members and close friends serving in Afghanistan.
Polamalu gained tremendous respect for military veterans while at Douglas High School in Winston, Ore., when several family members served in the Gulf War.
"A lot of my high school friends went into the military," Polamalu said. "I was raised with a fundamental respect for what it takes to sacrifice your life for the country. Anyone of the Christian faith would understand that someone who is willing to sacrifice their lives for somebody else is (making) the ultimate sacrifice."
Polamalu and his wife, Theodora, have three grandfathers who fought in World War II or the Korean War. Several relatives who saw combat in the Gulf War later died from Gulf War syndrome, he said.
Polamalu was inspired to participate in United for Veterans, which empowers supporters to join with thousands of Americans by claiming badges to pledge their support for veterans. The badges can be shared through social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
Supporters also can start fundraising campaigns on behalf of Veterans of Foreign Wars to support troops who have returned home and face a long road to recovery.
For the past four years, Polamalu and the Steelers have hosted Navy SEALs at Heinz Field, including the Steelers-Baltimore game in November.
"It was really cool to sit down and talk with the SEALs and hear their stories, at least what they could share," Polamalu said. "We talked about training, and they all said I probably could have made it. I'm thinking maybe at one time in my life I could have. But in all humility and respect, I don't think I've got it in me anymore."
Polamalu is also involved in Operation Once in a Lifetime, a program akin to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. It helps active servicemen and veterans in various ways, including providing flights home for service members and providing cars for disabled veterans and their families.
"As the country stands divided on politics and other important issues, there is one thing we can agree on," Polamalu said. "I'm showing my appreciation for the men and women who have protected our country."
It's a sentiment shared by Dwyer and Legursky.
"It's big what they do for us," said Dwyer, whose father-in-law is an Army veteran. "Any chance I get to participate with veterans, I'm all for it."
Legursky has several family members on active duty, including a brother-in-law. And he participates in the Wounded Warrior Project and Heroes at Heinz Field.
"We are a military family. It's really close to my heart," Legursky said. "Whenever I get an opportunity to give back to those guys, it's my charitable work.
"When you go to any airport during the holidays, there are people away from home serving our country. What they do gives us a chance to play this great game. It's the least we can do."