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Old 02-06-2011, 11:56 AM   #1
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Default Friends for Life, Troy being the man

The photo could be of any fan standing with any player at any NFL training camp.

But Elizabeth Rada wasn't just posing to impress her Facebook friends. And to her and legions of other Steelers fans, Troy Polamalu isn't just any player.

Rada grew up in a family of Eagles fans, but was drawn to root for Polamalu and his Steelers.

She would have been rooting for him to win Super Bowl XLV today against Green Bay. But bone cancer cost Rada her life on Oct. 2. The Charter School of Wilmington senior was 17.

"Troy Polamalu was her favorite football player, period," Elizabeth's mother, Sally, said.

After the family's experience with him last summer, he's their favorite, too.

When Elizabeth was in the eighth grade, the Make-A-Wish Foundation had set up a family excursion to Sea World. But she became too sick to make the trip.

"She changed from that little eighth grader that thought Sea World was great and became a huge Pittsburgh Steelers fan," Sally said.

So last August, Make-A-Wish brought Elizabeth and her family to Steelers training camp in Latrobe, Pa. Her father, David Rada, remembers it vividly.

"A lot of the kids that go to training camp through Make-A-Wish have a hard time saying anything to the players, but Elizabeth was really relaxed and comfortable, and they all felt like that was great," David said. "She was engaging and she didn't clam up or anything."

Elizabeth reflected on the meeting in a training camp diary posted on www.steelers.com.

"I couldn't sleep last night. That's very rare for a teenager to not like sleep. It's pretty much the most exciting day of my life. Troy has always seemed like a nice guy and a great football player so it's the best of both worlds."

Elizabeth and her family met Polamalu and the rest of the team, who autographed a football for her. Plus, they received tickets to a preseason game against the Detroit Lions.

But to Polamalu, the Steelers' hard-hitting free safety, that wasn't enough.

"When we were at training camp, Troy asked Elizabeth, 'Hey, you're coming back for the season opener, right?' " David said. "She said, 'We don't have tickets ...' and he said not to worry about it, that he could make that happen."

Polamalu did make it happen. With the Radas looking on, he intercepted a pass against the Atlanta Falcons in a 15-9 Steelers victory.

"Troy had that fabulous interception, and he autographed the football and gave it to Elizabeth," Sally said. "It said, 'Thanks for coming, Troy.' "

Elizabeth was thrilled. She wanted to cherish the memory with a photo of Polamalu intercepting the pass.

In late September, a 4-foot by 3-foot picture of the catch arrived at the Radas' house, courtesy of Polamalu and the Steelers.

"A couple of days before Elizabeth died that picture of the catch showed up at the house," David said. "That was on a Wednesday, and I couldn't get the picture to stop rolling up. I finally found a place to do the framing and had it home by Friday. Elizabeth got to enjoy it Friday ... and then some of Saturday."

She died later that day.

"Troy had asked us a day or so before she died if it was OK if he called her," David said. "Unfortunately, he called right after she passed away."

Still, the Radas are thankful that their daughter's hero turned out to be genuinely heroic. He was quick to offer his condolences after he found out about Elizabeth's death.

"He just never stopped being nice to Elizabeth," Sally said. "He was a fabulous superstar who wanted to make the end of her life special. I guess he has another personality off the football field. He just has a kind side that you don't see on the football field."

So the Radas will be cheering loudly for the Steelers' No. 43 with his long, flowing mane cascading underneath his helmet tonight.

"Elizabeth really fell in love with the Steelers, and especially Troy Polamalu," David said. "So I guess we're all Steelers fans now."

Troy has a heart of gold, that is such a shame for the family though.
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