When Pittsburgh faces Green Bay in Super Bowl XLV on Sunday, one Steeler will already be able to claim victory over a Packer. Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu was named The Associated Press 2010 NFL Defensive Player of the Year on Monday, scoring 17 first-place votes from the AP's panel of 50 media members; Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews came in second with 15 votes.
Polamalu didn't have his best season statistically, but he did tie for second in the league with seven interceptions (one for a touchdown), while continuing to show a knack for making big plays. Polamalu came up huge in Week 13 against the Ravens, forcing a crucial fumble in a Pittsburgh win that would ultimately decide the division.
Despite missing two games, in which Pittsburgh went 1-1, Polamalu became the sixth Steeler to win the award. He had seven interceptions this season along with 63 tackles, but made his mark with big plays. In a late-season victory at Baltimore, his leaping tackle forced a fumble that set up the winning touchdown.
"With all due respect, I honestly think Troy Polamalu is probably the greatest player I've ever played with or even seen play in person," said Jets receiver Santonio Holmes, an ex-Steeler. "Everybody has their one person they think is the greatest player. In my eyes, I think he's the greatest player I've ever played with."
Matthews finished with 13 1/2 sacks, good for fourth in the league in his second professional season. He also returned an interception 62 yards for a touchdown against the Cowboys in a mid-season blowout victory. In Green Bay's Week 17 win against the Bears that secured their spot in the playoffs, Matthews recorded a fourth-quarter sack on Jay Cutler on third down, proving he also had the ability to come up big in critical situations.
Matthews' defining game came in Week 1, when he recorded three sacks against the Philadelphia Eagles, knocking Kevin Kolb out of the game (and eventually out of a starting role). The next week, Matthews sacked Buffalo QB Trent Edwards three times in what would be Edwards' last game with the Bills.
Polamalu's teammate James Harrison, the 2008 AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year, finished third in the balloting with eight votes after recording 100 total tackles, 11 sacks and two interceptions. Julius Peppers finished fourth with six votes in his first season with the Bears while Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher received two votes. Baltimore's Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata each picked up a vote as well.