Hoke Retires

Only 12 players have played for the Pittsburgh Steelers in each of their three Super Bowl appearances this century. Chris Hoke today became the first of that group to retire. Jim Wexell has in-depth interviews.

Chris Hoke, one of the Steelers' dirty dozen to play in all three Super Bowls this century, retired today.

Originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Brigham Young University in 2001, Hoke spent the last 11 seasons as one of the team's most reliable backups.

Hoke's greatest moment was the 2004 season, when he replaced injured starter Casey Hampton and made 27 tackles with 1 sack. The Steelers won all 10 of Hoke's starts. In fact, in his 18 career starts the Steelers had a record of 17-1.

Hoke was much more than that during his time with the team. He epitomized the blue-collar spirit of Pittsburgh and treated everyone with respect.

Here's the transcript from an interview I did with Chris back on Oct. 12. Unbeknowst to us, he was preparing to make his final appearance, a start against Jacksonville


CH: I have that same tape recorder. I use it in my car as a journal when I drive home.

JW: Will you write a book some day?

CH: I don't know.

JW: I wanted to catch you before the mob comes over.

CH: Oh, man.

JW: If you don't want the mobs, don't be so nice to reporters.

CH: I'm just a nice person.

JW: Where'd you get that from?

CH: Parents. That's how I was raised: Be nice to everybody. You never know who's having a bad day. You never know who needs someone to smile at you and lift you up.

JW: What if you don't like somebody? Do you fake it?

CH: Give him a nod (laughs). Give him a nod.

JW: The other perplexing question for you is why do you always shower before practice?

CH: It wakes me up. My wife always asked me when we were in college. I'd play basketball in the morning and I'd always take a shower. She'd ask me about it and I'd say, ‘It wakes me up.' It's a habit.

JW: Good luck charm?

CH: I don't know if it's a good luck charm. I just feel like if I don't do it I don't get loosened up. I put the hot water on and let it beat against my skin and try to stretch out.

JW: You really take practice seriously, don't you?

CH: I've got to. I mean, the way I came up in this thing – an undrafted free agent – every play counts. I didn't have the luxury of making a couple of mistakes and then all of the sudden, ‘Oh it's no big deal.' Coming up as an undrafted free agent you always had to prove that you could do it. When you're a top draft pick, you've got to prove you can't do it.

JW: Besides this attitude that every play is big, what was the key for you way back then? What helped you the most to make it through to this point?

CH: My faith. My faith and just my work ethic. I'm not as athletic as some of the people around here. I'm not as talented as some of the people around here, but I work hard. I think I'm one of the hardest workers in here. I study. I still have things that I do from when I was young. I go over my playbook probably twice the night before the game and I go over my playbook – the blitzes that I've known for 11 years – and I get up in the morning and I go over my game-plan blitzes that I've known for 11 years and I get in the locker room and I go over them again. It's just habit, because I want to make sure that I'm fully prepared.

JW: You're so serious and even at this point that you still get so intense when you talk about it. A psychologist might say there's some insecurity there.

CH: There is. There is. It's the way I came in here. I tell people all the time I drive myself crazy. It's all the way I came into this business. I came into this business as a guy who, in my first three years, I suited up only two times. For three years I was in sweats for all of those games. I'd come in here on Mondays and I would see who was hurt. ‘Who's hurt? OK, am I going to be cut?' Tuesdays, I would check the news in the morning to see if I was going to get cut, of if I'm going to be playing. That's how I was when I was young and that's always stuck with me. It's always stuck with me that you've got to be ready for every situation, that you can't take anything for granted.

JW: But now here you are, 16-1 was a starter after the last game. Farrior was over there telling us what makes you great and why you just step into the starting lineup and dominate.

CH: No. Listen. I'm going to be honest with you. We went home. All my family's in town. My in-laws were in town. My parents were in town. My brother was in town. They went home and they were all excited. All I could think about were the plays I didn't do good. I went home and said, ‘Oh, man, I got reached on this play, and I didn't do this play good.' They were saying, ‘Come on, Chris.' But that's just the way I am. I don't get to enjoy it because I'm thinking. I think that's been my biggest advantage, but also my biggest crutch. I go home and don't get to enjoy it. I go home and I'm thinking, ‘Yeah, I had those plays.' My dad always tells me, ‘Chris, you focus on the good things other people do and you focus on the bad things you do.' I think that's what drives me to be the best I can be.

JW: Staying on this won-loss record a bit, tell me about the 10-game stretch in 2004. Tell me about that. Was it difficult?

CH: It was hard. It was really hard. Looking back now, that really has defined my career. If I didn't have those 10 games I wouldn't be here right now. I was giving up trying to prove myself. I was a fourth-year guy. If Hamp was healthy all year and I didn't get a chance to play? All of the sudden I proved I could start in this league by starting for 10 games for the No. 1 defense at the end of the year. I put a lot of pressure on myself before I walked in this building. I'm a guy who wants to please other people. I don't want people to think, ‘Hokey can't do this or that.' I want to make sure everybody feels comfortable with me out there, so I bust my tail. I put a lot of pressure on myself before I get in here and get the pressure put on my by coaches to do the job. I remember it was a bye week before that first start against the Patriots. I was honestly just so stressed out and then that first game everything started building and I started getting comfortable in playing. It was a really fun year. I remember at the end of the year when we lost to the Patriots, I was crushed because I was having so much fun. I didn't realize how much fun I was having until I got home after the last game and thought, ‘It's over. Casey's coming back next year and it's over.'

JW: Two rings later ... talk to me about the one loss you experienced as a starter, the Raiders. Does that gnaw at you?

CH: No, no, no. I look at this whole thing, and I'm just blessed. That year [2004] we were on a run. It wasn't because of me, of course. But when guys know a guy like Casey's down, Casey's such a great player and when a great player goes down everybody's got to elevate their game. If you watch, when Casey goes down, or a guy like James Harrison goes down, guys like James Farrior, Troy, Brett, LaMarr, everybody just steps up their game and it makes my job easier because they're playing so well that I can just go out there and play football. There's no pressure on me. I'm not Casey Hampton. I never claimed to be. I'm not as good as he is. But I feel like I can get the job done and those guys make it easier on me.

JW: You may not be Casey Hampton, but you're getting raves for your performance this past week. Talk about that, when the week before [at Houston] I thought you had a below-average game, particularly while playing defensive end. Did you have a bad game?

CH: I didn't play perfect. I don't think I had a horrible game. I didn't think anybody had a particularly good game. At defensive end, I feel I can still fill in there and get the job done.

JW: What went into the bounce back this past week?

CH: I made some mistakes. I've got to get better.

JW: Come on, Hokey. Mark Kaboly wrote in the Trib today that it was the greatest game of your career.

CH: I don't know about that, man. I had some big plays. I had three big plays, but I thought I played Tennessee better than I did this year. So ... I don't like all this pub, man. I just want to go out there under the radar.

JW: OK, talk to me about your future and I'll leave you alone.

CH: My future, I want to play till they tell me to go home. When I'm done I want to enjoy my kids, I want to enjoy my wife. I have to miss a lot of my kids sports and stuff, so I'm looking forward to being around for a lot of that. I don't know. I have a lot of things I want to do. I'd love to maybe do some radio, some TV, but I'd also love to go back to BYU and be a part of that program. The hours would be better for me. At BYU the hours are a little different. It's driven more by the church, the Mormon school. It's driven by family. You get a little extra time to be with your family. They still put the hours in, but they don't put the crazy hours in like a lot of schools do. I could still go home and put my kids to bed at night. I could get most Sundays off. So, to me everything's driven by my family, and that's the most important thing.


JW: What makes Hokey so great?

BK: Hoke's always been one of those guys who's had everything against him and nothing given to him. That's kind of how he's hung around every year, because he approaches his job so seriously, takes his job so seriously, that he won't let anyone else outwork him. That's how he is on show team. That's how he is when he starts. He's just a constant workaholic, studies tape, just one of those great stories.

JW: Considering the pre-practice showers and all the other stuff, might he too serious?

BK: Well he has his idiosyncrasies. He's a creature of habit. He does the same thing every day. He goes out, warms up, gets his steps. It's regimented for him. To be a free agent and to be behind a great player like Casey, odds are you're not going to see the field much. But Chris has a better record than anybody as far as wins and losses goes. He's just a great guy and a great competitor.

JW: Don't you want to throw him off balance, disrupt his routine sometimes?

BK: We do sometimes. We like to give him a hard time. We like to keep him on his toes as far as some of the things he does. He used to be my roommate when we were up at training camp. Our schedules were way off. He'd come back from practice. He'd already have eaten. He'd already have his nap in. I'd take my time and get back to the room and be ready to take a nap while he's ready to get up and start taking steps and thinking about the defense. I finally had to get some eyeshades and earplugs.

JW: He did his steps in the room?

BK: Yes. That's why no matter what anybody says to him, whether you make fun of him all day about it, he's going to continue to do it because it's what's worked for him for 11 years now. To see him go out and play the way he did last week is just icing on the cake. I'm proud of him. That's what we expect from him though.

JW: Did he tell everyone what his record is?

BK: Well of course. But if you go up and ask him ‘What's your record?' He'll be like, ‘Oh, I don't know ... 16 and 1.' He says he don't know, but he knows. He knows. Sixteen and one, he probably knows every tackle he made, every stat he made, how many plays he played. He probably knows all that.

JW: Ever ask him about the loss to the Raiders?

BK: Yup. He'll tell you about the 98 yards total offense and we still lost.

JW: You've heard this a few times.

BK: I've heard it a hundred times. We love it. And it's not only with Hoke, we get to bust Hamp's balls: ‘How did you make the Pro Bowl behind Hokey? Hokey wins all the games he starts.' So it's like we get to jab both of them at the same time. It's win win.

JW: So there's the record, the showers before practice. What can you tell me about the Hokey Pokey?

BK: After he makes a big play he'll bust out the Hokey Pokey. In training camp, we always do the claps before, and Hokey is known for doing this little jig that he does. I don't know if it's an Irish jig or what type of jig it is. He does this jig and then at the end he jumps up and does the splits and touches his toes with his arms.

JW: Is this mojo for the team?

BK: Yeah. It gets the crowd going. We all enjoy it. I don't know if there are too many guys who can do the jump splits like Hokey can.

JW: How did that start?

BK: I think it started when Hamp got hurt in that Dallas game and Hoke started the rest of that year. Not only did that start, he also had his own TV show. He also had his own radio show. I mean, Hoke's big-time. He acts like he's not but he is.

JW: When he retires he could be like Tunch and Wolf, couldn't he?

BK: If he wants to, that's what he's going to do. Now Hoke will probably want to go back to BYU, and all of these wonderful things he's learned here from Coach Mitch and Dick LeBeau, take all these things back to BYU and integrate it into their system and take all the credit for it.

JW: Wouldn't that make you happy?

BK: Absolutely.

JW: You would be guest alumnus instructor?

BK: No question. No question. Hoke's one of my brothers. Not only has he helped me a lot when I first got here, but we try and help each other and talk to each other, and he is my brother for real.

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