Steelers defensive lineman Hoke persisted despite long odds
TribLIVE Sports Videos
Chris Hoke was the consummate role player. He planted his hands in the trenches and committed to doing the dirty work that enabled others to thrive amid the spotlight.
Every now and then, the 305-pound nose tackle would steal the show in training camp with an Irish jig that inspired the crowd and his Steelers teammates. On Thursday, flanked by longtime friends — nose tackle Casey Hampton, defensive ends Brett Keisel and Aaron Smith — Hoke retired without much fanfare.
Hoke, 35, decided his 11th year with the Steelers would be his curtain call, in part, because of a series of nagging injuries, mostly a neck injury that landed him on injured reserve this past season.
"I had a couple of big injuries this year, and it helped put things in perspective for me," Hoke said. "I think the man upstairs was talking to me, and it's time for me to move on."
Hoke's wife, Jaimee, and his three sons were at the Steelers' training facility during his emotional farewell. Coach Mike Tomlin, who had been at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., also made an appearance.
Hoke said he resisted the temptation to continue playing. He said he spent part of last season in denial — his neck injury was far more severe than he imagined.
"I would have been doing my family a disservice to continue playing," Hoke said. "It could have been pretty bad.
"I'm glad I went to see the doctor when I did."
Hoke started only 18 games in his career, but hardly anyone was as reliable. The odds were stacked against him when signed as an undrafted free agent in 2001, partly because the Steelers selected Hampton with their first pick in that draft.
In 2004, Hoke had his most successful season, recording 27 tackles and one sack, as Hampton nursed an injured knee.
"When I walked in here 11 years ago as an undrafted free agent, I had a lot of dreams, but I never thought I'll be standing here 11 years later," Hoke said. "The feeling of family makes this a special place. Coach (Bill) Cowher stuck with me doing my growing years, and coach Tomlin believed in me.
"I was blessed to play for the best defensive coordinator in NFL history," he added. "Coach (Dick) LeBeau was the turning point in my career when he came in 2004, because he helped me turn things around."
Hoke, choking back tears, also credited defensive line coach John Mitchell.
"My dream was to just make the team," said Hoke, who helped the Steelers advance to six AFC championship games. "To be a part of a couple of Super Bowl teams is truly unbelievable."
Hoke's departure leaves questions about the rest of an aging defensive front.
Hampton and Keisel might have to take considerable pay cuts to resolve the Steelers' salary cap issues. Also, Smith isn't likely to return next season, meaning the Steelers will lean more on their young linemen — ends Ziggy Hood and last year's No.1 pick Cameron Heyward, and nose tackle Steve McLendon.
"It's about helping the team to win, and those three guys have that attitude," Hoke said. "They are going to be great players for many years to come."
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers’ Wheaton adjusting his game moving to slot receiver
- Inside the Steelers: Ventrone suffers right ankle injury
- Steelers RB Archer trying to catch up after tough rookie season
- Steelers LB Timmons has grown into leadership role on defense
- Steelers notebook: Backup QB Gradkowski remains out with shoulder issue
- Steelers’ Brown arrives in style, vows to be ‘the best in the world’
- Butler, Steelers defense take on new challenges
- Rossi: St. Vincent a football sanctuary during Steelers training camp
- Steelers tackle Beachum braces for competition along offensive line
- Steelers notebook: Rookie CB Golson still dealing with left shoulder pain
- IOC urges US to come up with another bid city for 2024 Games