One of the things I admire most about Jim Wexell is his ability to blend great football analysis with a keen eye for telling stories. I loved the approach of his most recent book Steeler Nation, and how he focused not on the games of the 2007 season, but the families, friends and other relevant figures in the lives of the players we cheer for on Sundays. As Wexell mentioned on Terrible Towel Talk, Episode 13 in early November, a new book project about Troy Polamalu is in the works. To state the obvious, I can't wait for more details and for Jim to finish the project.
On Wednesday, Wexell wrote a moving piece about Chris Hoke, the Steelers veteran defensive tackle that was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday. Like his fellow veteran defensive lineman, Aaron Smith, Hoke underwent successful 'neck fusion' surgery this week. That's the good news. The bad news is the injury could spell the end of Hoke's wildly successful eight-year career as a key role player on defense. If eight years doesn't sound like the shelf life of a reserve defensive player with limited injury history, don't forget that Hoke went on a two-year mission to Belgium and France in the middle of his collegiate career at BYU.
Wexell's tribute was outstanding, but he largely left the talking to the player that Hoke has apparently been mentoring rigorously and devotedly this past three years -- Steve McLendon.
"When I say ‘work things out,’ I’m not just talking about the season, but life. Period," McLendon said. "He’s helped me with a bunch of things off the field also. This is going to go way past football. He’s a family man and he’d help me with stuff with my family, like trips to take with the family, a lot of little things. But he’s going to help me a lot. I told him we need to talk every day, because some things I can’t break down like Hoke can. He’s been helping me, so I don’t want to change that. Like I told him, we’ll talk every day. He told me we could talk every day. He’ll be around. This is pretty tough for me."
Do read the piece. It's fantastic. I know of at least one of you here that considers Chris Hoke to be their favorite player, or at least one of them. For all of us though, the gregarious and selfless backup to Casey Hampton will always be remembered fondly. And thankfully, based on what we know about how the Steelers organization operates, we'll be seeing plenty more of Hoke for years to come, even if it's not on Sundays with him donning the black-and-gold.