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A Tribute to Unheralded and Retiring Steelers NT Chris Hoke

No one will be lobbying for enshrinement into Canton for Steelers NT Chris Hoke, who announced his retirement today after 11 seasons in Pittsburgh.

We didn't see him in Hawaii in those annoying red AFC Pro Bowl jerseys. We didn't even see his name on the draft tracker on ESPN back in 2001, when the Steelers signed him as an undrafted free agent out of BYU.

We did see him on two Super Bowl championship roster, and three AFC Championship roster. We saw him more-than-adequately back-up Steelers legend Casey Hampton his entire career, and in 18 starts, Hoke's Steelers won an eye-popping 17 of them.

It's a stat unlikely to be challenged, mostly because few would bother to farm through historic records to find a comparable player. But that's why the stat is so important; it fits Hoke even better than his facial hair.

Understated, unheralded but completely in control of his craft.

When the Steelers announced Hoke, 35, would undergo season-ending neck surgery, Steel City Insider's Jim Wexell penned an excellent piece on second-year NT Steve McLendon's reaction to Hoke's retirement. Anything that may have been considered unheralded about Hoke was washed away with McLendon's nearly teary-eyed description of the kind of leader and teacher Hoke is.

We don't see what's happening on the sidelines during games. We didn't see Hoke shouting out what he sees, or helping defensive line coach Johnny Mitchell make in-game adjustments. We saw him go in and help the league's best defensive team over the last 10 years when it needed him but we weren't exposed to his true value.

That value is simple; teams do not win without guys like Chris Hoke. It's not the talent of your superstars, but the character of the players on your bench that bring championships. Veteran leadership and savvy cannot be understated, although we always want the next big thing.

The legacy of this defensive line over the last 10 years will be as rich and storied as the Steel Curtain before it, and Hoke is as big a part of it as Hampton, Aaron Smith or Brett Keisel. Fans will always remember 98, 91 and 99, and perhaps less fans will remember 76.

But if there's ever a reunion of the Steelers Super Bowl teams of the new millennium, and all those guys are hanging around meeting with people, with all due respect to the starters, I'm heading straight for Chris Hoke, and I'm asking to shake his hand.

Because he's the one who did the most that no one saw, and I want him to know some people recognize those characteristics as defining points of a champion.