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This rivalry is warm, not heated: Polamalu talks of respect for Palmer

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Steelers safety Troy Polamalu won't say if Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer owes him money from some unpaid dinner bill of long ago. Or if he left his unwashed socks in the middle of the floor, or snored so loudly it kept others awake.

Polamalu won't even acknowledge that knowing Palmer as well as he does - they were roommates and practice opponents for years at Southern Cal - will give him an advantage Sunday when their teams meet in Pittsburgh.

"Nothing," Polamalu said Wednesday. "I don't know his tendencies."

Polamalu knows this: Of all the friends he's had among football players, Palmer remains one of his best. Such friends that, only a week after Pittsburgh linebacker Joey Porter talked about the hatred that exists between the Ravens and Steelers, Polamalu talked only about the respect and fondness he feels for Palmer.

"It's a blessing to be part of his life," Polamalu said. "He taught me a lot about learning offenses and quarterbacks ... and that's where part of the blessings come from. He's a great guy and a great individual."

Despite playing in a league where bragging rights are important and competitiveness is a way of life, Polamalu wasn't about to gloat about the plays he made against Palmer during their daily practices.

"Unfortunately, he got the best of me more often than I got the best of him," Polamalu said. "It will be a blessing to share a field with him and it will be a very exciting challenge for us."

Polamalu's reluctance to say anything negative about his former teammate wasn't just to avoid creating any bulletin-board material for the Bengals' locker room. To the contrary, it displayed a gentlemanly respect that seemingly vanished from the NFL long before the single-wing offense did.

"We lived in a house with about six guys that were low-key guys," Polamalu said. "He's very warmhearted - and very contagious with that."

Yes, this really was one NFL player talking about another.

Polamalu and Palmer will share more than a handshake and a hug at midfield this week. If they talk - and opposing players rarely do during game week - they can compare notes about their strikingly similar NFL careers.

Both were first-round draft choices a year ago who didn't become starters until this season - Palmer because the Bengals chose to bring him along slowly, Polamalu because he couldn't beat out incumbent Mike Logan a year ago.

Both enjoyed good games in victories against Miami, both struggled at times in losses to Baltimore. Some in Cincinnati are questioning if Palmer should remain the starter, just as some in Pittsburgh a year ago criticized Polamalu for not winning a starting job.

"I think that's the greatest thing about him, his character," Polamalu said. "He faced tons of scrutiny in L.A., and he continued to persevere. ... He looks very good to me, very comfortable."

Even if Palmer doesn't necessarily expect to feel that way Sunday. Palmer joked Wednesday that Pittsburgh is such a hostile place to play, an elderly woman made an obscene gesture toward him there last season.

"She was pretty old. I'm not sure; I didn't get an age on her," Palmer said. "It's a passionate place. ... They're passionate about their football."

Asked what he and Palmer talk about now during their occasional conversations, Polamalu said, "The stuff football players normally talk about - flowers and mountains and trees."

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