Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Troy Polamalu Packs The Harrisburg Mall For Autograph Signings

Steeler Nation was out in full force, decked in black, bright yellow and white garb to honor one of its heroes.

And when the five-time NFL All-Pro strong safety Troy Polamalu came down the escalator outside Big Bass Pro Shop at the Harrisburg Mall, the throng of fans showed appreciation with a deafening ovation.

Polamalu was in town to sign autographs for the IUP Alumni Sports Card Show, which ends today at the Harrisburg Mall. For $155 a pop, one of the league's best signed helmets and pictures. An additional $60 got a jersey signed. Proceeds benefited Harrisburg-area students attending IUP.

But price didn't matter. Not to these diehards, who sold the event out by purchasing all 820 tickets available for the signing.

"It was worth it," Tom Geiser, of New Cumberland, said. "Besides, the money goes to charity and if you go online and get a signed jersey, it is $200. Plus, we got a chance to meet him and that means a lot more."

Geiser, who has 12 Steelers jerseys, held son Konnor in his arms. His wife Jessamy, who was wearing a home black Polamalu jersey, had a white No. 43 jersey, which will be framed and hung on the wall, in her arms.

This was a chance for Jessamy to not only see a Steelers player up close, but her favorite player in the NFL.

"He is so hot," Jessamy Geiser said. "I just wanted to touch his hair, but I guess he had it up so the women wouldn't grab it.

"He is such a good player. It was horrible that he didn't play last year. We could have gone to the Super Bowl if he would have played. But we do have next year."

Polamalu suffered an injury to the medial cruciate ligament in his knee in the Steelers opener against Tennessee. He missed four games before returning against Cleveland. Later in the season, he tweaked his posterior cruciate ligament against Cincinnati, which ended his season.

The Steelers missed Polamalu's presence in the secondary for 11 games. The team dropped to ninth in the league against the pass and lost five straight games in the middle of the season, blowing leads in each of the losses.

"The team wasn't really that good with him not in there," said 10-year-old Shelby Benner of Halifax. "It was really cool to see him. This is one of the best things that has ever happened to me."

Benner said she has been watching football since she was little with parents Terry and Lisa. She is a cheerleader and was so nervous about meeting Polamalu that she was shaking before and after she went through the line.

Like many of the fans lined up in anaconda fashion, Benner respects the way Polamalu plays the game. They love his big hits and playmaking ability that has netted him 20 career interceptions and 452 tackles.

Countless flashbulbs went off as Polamalu, who refused to grant interviews to the media, signed everything from old USC Trojans gear, to Super Bowl apparel and even a three-foot bobblehead that was purchased by Harrisburg's Tim Dunchock.

"I went to a Pittsburgh game and was looking for Pittsburgh Steelers stuff when I found this," said Dunchock, who paid $525 for the statue. "He is my favorite player, and you definitely see how good he is because that defense was nothing without him last year.

"It was an automatic no-brainer coming here to get him to sign it. You see these guys on the field, but it's a great experience getting to meet him. It's hard to describe how it feels."

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