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When you play in the middle of the defensive line of a professional football team, people rarely notice you. Until you do something wrong. Commit a penalty. Allow a running back to slip by you and begin a long gain. And everybody knows your name – at least for a moment. Failure proves more noteworthy than success.
When you play as a backup player in the middle of the defensive line, people notice you even less.
People recognize the names of linebackers – Dick Butkus, Jack Lambert, Lawrence Taylor, Ray Lewis.
People recognize the names of defensive backs – Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu, Ronnie Lott, Ken Houston.
Say the name Chris Hoke and see how people respond.
Some, particularly members of Steelers Nation, may know that Hoke has served as the back-up nose tackle, behind Casey Hampton, for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He entered the league in 2001 – the same year as Hampton.The Steelers picked Hampton with a number one draft choice; Hoke signed after the as an undrafted free agent.
Hampton became the starter, taking on the task of clogging the middle of the defensive line, occupying blockers, filling the hole.
Hoke became the backup. He entered games to give Hampton a rest. And, when Hampton could not start, Hoke did.
Eighteen times over the past ten years, Chris Hoke began a game as the starting nose tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Seventeen times, the team left the field with a victory. 17-1. Quite a record.
Hoke filled his other role just as well. When Hampton rested, the defense remained strong with no drop-off in performance.
Chris Hoke had a job to do. He did it well.
In October, a neck injury essentially ended Hoke’s season. He remained on the roster although he did not play after the injury occurred.
The announcement came on December 6 that his injury required surgery. The team placed him on injured reserve on December 8.
Some believe this surgery will end his career.
If it does or if it doesn’t, this seems an appropriate moment to say, “Chris, I hope your recovery is swift and sure.”
It is also time, past time, to say “Thank you, Chris Hoke.”
Thank you for doing your job and for doing it well.
Thank you for not needing the limelight – but for doing what you were asked and paid to do.
Thank you for being a professional.
And thank you to all the Chris Hokes who make up this world.
All who work – who work hard – who work well – who work with little recognition – who work to make life livable, more pleasant, and more enjoyable.
To all of you – to each of you – my thanks.
See you along the Trail.