Championship teams in any sport at any level will almost always have those one or two guys who are considered ‘stars.’ Magic and Kareem, Mario and Jaromir, Greene and Lambert and Ruth and Gehrig come to mind. Our current Pittsburgh Steelers squad is loaded with guys who could be labeled as ‘stars.’ Troy Polamalu, Hines Ward and Ben Roethlisberger are each viable candidates.
While great teams are typically driven by the all-stars that lead them, there are guys in the shadows that often go unseen. Guys who do the dirty work and are willing to do whatever it takes for the betterment of the team. In basketball and baseball, those players typically stand out because of the fewer numbers on the field of play than in football where many players often go unnoticed especially those on the offensive and defensive lines.
One such guy in the shadows is Chris Hoke who announced his retirement yesterday from Professional Football. Hoke had a pretty serious neck injury while he was playing arguably the best ball of his career. While the doctors have him cleared him, the 36-year old isn’t taking any chances and who could blame him? The 11-year veteran from Brigham Young University is extremely familiar to those in the Steeler Nation, but to most casual football fans his retirement will most likely conjure up comments like, “Who?” That’s OK with Hoke too. He isn’t one to seek celebrity necessarily anyway.
Number 76 came into the league as undrafted free agent and while he never threatened Casey Hampton’s position as the starter at Nose Tackle, he did prove himself to be one of the Steelers best and most important back-up players. Hoke only started 18 games in his career, but he is exactly the type of player great teams need to be successful. His absence in the AFC Wild-Card Playoff loss in Denver was more noticeable than some would have thought. With Hampton going down with a knee injury and end Brett Keisel leaving with a groin injury, the Steelers suddenly were short-handed up front.
Hoke will be remembered for being there when the team needed him whether in a rare start or simply spelling a worn-out Hampton. Hoke was known as a great locker room guy who once earned $1,000 from Kimo von Oelhoffen and Aaron Smith by jumping into the chilly Monongahela River, fully padded mind you and then gladly accepted his earnings.
There are many in the Steeler Nation who will say ‘thanks’ and move on to the next warrior in line and that’s OK, but Hoke is exactly the kind of guy winning teams want and need today. It isn’t about them, it’s about the team and nobody embodied that like Chris Hoke.