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Marvin Lewis salutes Troy Polamalu; talks about facing him and Ed Reed

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Marvin Lewis and the Bengals faced two of the better safeties the NFL will ever see on an annual basis.

Greg Fiume/Getty Images

One of the best safeties the NFL has ever seen has decided to hang up his cleats.

Steelers safety Troy Polamalu announced his retirement Friday following a 12-year career that should someday lead to a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. While his latter years were nothing spectacular, Polamalu was so dominant in the early and middle part of his careers that some thought he might be the greatest safety the NFL had ever seen.

Marvin Lewis has gotten an up-close look at Polamalu twice a year since 2003, and he knew as well as anyone how good the All-Pro safety was. Lewis talked with the Sporting News about facing Polamalu, as well as Baltimore's soon-to-be-retired Ed Reed, and how those two changed the game.

"Unfortunately, they've both had interception returns for touchdowns on us," Lewis said of Reed and Polamalu. "Let's just say the AFC Pro Bowl team was loaded every year. They complemented each other; they really did. They were exceptional at everything. What one could do, the other could do, too.

"I think in my time, they have to be held up there with the Ronnie Lotts of the world. All the things they did, that's what Ronnie Lott did. He made plays everywhere on the field and impacted his team winning football games."

"There aren't two better players you, as a coach, would want young safeties to look up to."

Polamalu won two Super Bowls with the Steelers and retires as one of the franchise's best defenders the long-traditioned franchise has ever had. He recorded 771 tackles, 32 interceptions and 12 sacks in his career. Reed set a franchise record with 61 career regular-season interceptions.

Polamalu and Reed combined for three Super Bowl wins, 17 Pro Bowls and nine All-Pro selections. They shared AFC Pro Bowl honors six times and first-team All-Pro recognition twice.

The Bengals are thankful they no longer have to face both players twice a year.