Editor's note: This interview was conducted, and the article written by, 1blkgldfan, a.k.a. Annette Filippone. She made contact with former Steelers free safety Chris Hope through his publicist, and he was more than accommodating. She did a fantastic job, and really got a lot of good quotes out of the Steelers' starting free safety for many of great Steelers teams of the last decade and a half. I'd like to thank her for the effort and excellent work. - nc
Drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 3rd round, 94th overall selection of the 2002 draft, Chris Hope began his NFL career that currently extends to 10 seasons. Ten seasons. Wow. It sure doesn't seem that long ago that the fierce tandem (arguably the best in the NFL during this time) of Troy Polamalu and Chris Hope sealed a secondary of the best defense in football.
I was fortunate to interview Chris for BTSC and I have to tell you; rarely will you meet an athlete who speaks so openly, freely and passionately about football, his Charity organization (iCHopeFund) and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
I approached this interview not to discuss the X's and O's but rather as a fan who always wondered... "What exactly is 'The Steelers Way" and how do players really feel when this or that occurs. I know I tend to glamorize what it must be like to be a Steeler. What the locker room is like. What it feels like to leave someplace.. and the people you've grown to love; your brothers. Chris Hope told me like it is. Join me for a candid discussion about the draft, his relationships, his philosophies and what he took with him from his Pittsburgh experience.
The Draft of 2002
Chris was drafted with Kendall Simmons, Antwaan Randle El, Larry Foote and Brett Keisel, just to name a few. Pretty good company to keep. I have visions of players waiting anxiously for the call to come and in walks the Rooney family with (at that time) Bill Cowher carrying a tray with a contract and big glass of Black and Gold Koolaid. I share this vision with Hope.
"Not quite," he laughs. "The draft was frustrating for me. Twelve to 14 safeties were taken before me. I thought I'd go late in the first round, maybe the second. The call came and I didn't realize how fortunate and blessed I was to be drafted by the Steelers."
Hope noted the ignorance rookies have, and spoke about the candidly.
"Rookies don't understand how important being drafted by a franchise like the Steelers is," Hope said. His feeling is it's equally as important to understand the legacy of the organization and the Steelers; especially the players, make sure that legacy is upheld.
Welcome to the 'Steelers Way'
We hear it. We believe in it. What exactly is it? I asked Chris this question and he was more than happy to answer.
"It's totally unselfish," he said. "The guy next to you, the guy behind you, everyone from coaches to players wants you to succeed. If there's an injury, you know your backup is maybe as good as you but you never hope he doesn't do well. It's all about winning. We're brothers.
"Even today, it could be 6 months since I've talked to or seen some of the guys, but we pick up right where we left off."
In his first two seasons, he was a beast on special teams. Hope told him it was a role to which former Steelers coach Bill Cowher addressed him directly. He said Cowher sat him down and told him "I know you're going to be a starter in the NFL as a safety but right now we need you on special teams."
The defense was loaded and Cowher spent a lot of time telling him the importance of special teams.
"After talking to coach Cowher, I understood and felt good about it. You know you can hate your job, but you have to do your best. I actually believe playing special teams in my rookie year may have helped extend my career." He said in Pittsburgh, the coaches respect the players, the players respect the coaches and the locker room polices itself. It's the Steelers Way.
His thankfulness of his time in Pittsburgh is evident in his passion of the game he plays with the Titans now. He said he brought with him the leadership that was given to him by the veterans he played with in Pittsburgh. He was taught well and he wholeheartedly believes in the "team" concept.
Talent without "Team"
I asked him how some players, with all the talent in the world, just never seem to wrap their head around the game. He said "Look around at some of the teams loaded with big money talent, yet they aren't those constant threats to win a Super Bowl."
He added, "To some players the goal and the dream was to be drafted. Dream achieved. Now what? It's like a woman whose goal it is to get married and have the big wedding, but doesn't want to do what it takes to be a wife."
Chris said one of the things that sets the Steelers apart was recruiting: "They go after players who want to be Pro Bowlers." Chris knows a little something about being a Pro Bowler. He also knows something about being on a Super Bowl Championship team.
The 2004 Season
I couldn't resist; I just had to ask about the "Spygate" Patriots' 41-27 AFCC win over what former Steelers LB Joey Porter calls the "best team in football that year." But let's go to the beginning of the season. Tommy-Gun Maddox goes down with an elbow injury in Week 2, and rookie QB Ben Roethlisberger steps in to lead them to a 15-1 regular season, never having lost a game he started.
I asked if the team held their collective breaths like the fans did when Maddox went down. "It's always a shock. You hate to see your teammate hurt. Ben was a confident guy and we were confident in him."
How about the AFC Championship game.
"Just frustrating." That was good enough for me.
Redemption the Following Year
"There was no way we weren't winning the Super Bowl," Hope said.
From the beginning of an up and down season that featured injuries to Roethlisberger and Charlie Batch, Coach Cowher had a meeting with the team at which time they told him "We got this."
Hope said after the loss to the Colts on MNF Cowher came into the locker room and was a believer. We definitely 'got this'. Landing the 6th seed, the Steelers defeated division rival Cincinnati on the road, followed by the upset of No. 1 seeded Indianapolis, then No. 2 seeded Denver. Then onto Detroit, and 3 hours 5 minutes and 6 seconds later, a glorious day for Steeler Nation.
One For The Thumb was ours. I asked him how he feels about the talk that the Steelers were 'gifted' that Super Bowl by the refs.
"I don't invite negativity. It could have easily been back to back Super Bowl wins for the Steelers in 2004 and 2005. Easily." Steeler Nation believes that too, Chris.
After winning Super Bowl XL, Chris accepted a sizable contract with the Tennessee Titans (he's currently a free agent). Chris refers to this period of time as "The best and the worst." Super Bowl champion that was leaving his brothers behind. We all understand the business of football, but it doesn't make it any easier to see a player and a man like Chris Hope leave. I told Chris that while he may put on a Titans jersey, his Black and Gold shines through on the field. You could hear the smile in his laugh. Chris Hope is one of those guys who appreciated what it meant to be a Pittsburgh Steeler (and said that Steeler fans are the best in sports).
I don't believe for one minute that Chris has any regrets. From where he was to where he is. He's a content and happy man who married his beautiful wife, Linda a year ago.
I asked Chris what he thought about the recent injuries in the off-season conditioning program. He said that many players work consistently throughout the year "but when you back off the program," it can cause problems when you get back into it. Chris is no stranger to injuries. In 2007 he suffered a neck injury (buldging disc putting pressure on his spinal cord) that required surgery (spinal fusion). He missed the balance of the 2007 season but has not missed a practice or game since. He's proud of that. When I asked if the injury worried him he said "I downplay it. It was a little scary."
Carrying the Same Passion Off The Field
I wish I lived near Rock Hill, N.C. The 3rd Annual iCHopeFund Celebrity basketball game will be played Saturday May 19th at Rock Hill High School, Hope's alma mater. The basketball game features players Steve Smith, Ike Taylor, William Gay, Tommy Davis, Cortland Finnegan, John Joseph, Ben Watson, newly drafted Stephon Gilmore and a BUNCH more. For a $5 advanced purchase or $10 at the door, you'll have an opportunity to have autographs signed at halftime and help a cause that is very near and dear to Chris' heart: The Pilgrims Inn.
The Pilgrims Inn is much more than a shelter for women: it's a place where mothers and their children can be safe while the mothers seek employment. The Pilgrims Inn provides daycare for children of mothers who are either seeking employment or working. This is a hand up; not a hand out.
"This is a place where women who have fallen on hard times can get help. Where everyone knows everyone like when I was growing up. Neighbors who corrected me when I was cursing. We looked out for each other and families helped other families, that's what the Pilgrims Inn does. They help families.
"They don't do things 'for' the women; they help the women do things for themselves."
Please take a moment to visit Hope's web site (linked here) and check out what this very generous and very kind, caring man is doing. You can read more about the basketball game and make donations if you, like myself, can't be there in person. There's even a VIP event that for $50 you can dine with those who we watch so closely throughout their careers. They give back... I sincerely hope we'll give back to them.
Chris Hope: You'll always be welcome in Pittsburgh.