Ravens' respect for Troy Polamalu runs deep

The Baltimore Ravens will not soon forget Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, who reportedly decided to retire after playing 12 NFL seasons and delivering two of the biggest clutch plays in a storied football rivalry.

In the 2008 AFC Championship Game, the Ravens had pulled to within 16-14 at Heinz Field and got the ball back with less than five minutes remaining. But Polamalu leapt to intercept a Joe Flacco pass intended for Derrick Mason and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown to send the Steelers to a Super Bowl that they would win.

Two seasons later, the Ravens led the Steelers 10-6 and were a little over three minutes away from taking control of the AFC North in Week 13. But Polamalu again denied the Ravens, coming unblocked on a blitz to strip Flacco from the blind side and set up the winning touchdown.

For Polamalu, it was always about timing against the Ravens. Surprisingly, those two plays represented Polamalu's only interception and one of his two forced fumbles in 23 games (including playoffs) against the Ravens.

But these types of game-changing plays defined Polamalu's career and garnered high respect from his fiercest rival.

“Great player. You had to account for him at all times,” coach John Harbaugh said about Polamalu at the NFL owners meetings two weeks ago. “We’ve had times where we didn’t account for him. It’s like, ‘He’s wearing No. 43, he’s got hair down to his shoulders, there’s no way we should miss the guy. Block him. Block him, please.’”

Harbaugh was asked whether he'd be happy to see Polamalu gone from the Steelers, and he politely declined to answer.

“I love Troy Polamalu,” Harbaugh said. “Every time I talk to him, he’s been nothing but gracious. He’s a wonderful guy, great player. Wow, what a great player.”