CRESSON - Playing on two Super Bowl championship teams as a former nose tackle with the Pittsburgh Steelers was literally a dream come true for Chris Hoke.
Hoke, 37 - the celebrity guest Friday at the 16th annual Mount Aloysius College Golf Tournament held at the Summit Country Club - spoke exuberantly about being a member of a renowned National Football League franchise that earned the pleasure of hoisting the coveted Super Bowl-championship Lombardi Trophy twice in a space of three years, in 2006 and 2009.
"It's a huge thrill,'' Hoke said. "When you're a child watching the Super Bowl, you see the champions on the podium with the Lombardi Trophy, and you dream about one day holding the Lombardi Trophy and lifting it up yourself.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Former Steeler Chris Hoke smiles while in Cresson.
"And to be able to do that not just once, but twice, and with one of the more storied franchises in the NFL, is an unbelievable blessing.''
The Steelers won Super Bowl XL, 21-10 over the Seattle Seahawks at Detroit's Ford Field in 2006. Three years later, they returned to the big game again, pulling out a 27-23 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla, when wideout Santonio Holmes caught quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's 6-yard touchdown pass with just 35 seconds left in the game.
Hoke said both games were special for different reasons.
"You always [remember] the first one, it was pure joy and excitement,'' Hoke said. "The first time you're there, you don't know what to expect, so that one to me was probably the most thrilling - not to take away anything from the second one.''
Holmes' catch in the corner of the end zone in Super Bowl XLIII in Florida capped a masterful drive orchestrated by Roethlisberger and the offense.
"It was a roller-coaster ride in the fourth quarter,'' Hoke said. "You're down, then you're up ... and the fashion in which we won the game, with Santonio catching that ball in the corner of the end zone, was [huge].''
Hoke, a California native who played college football at Brigham Young University, played all 11 of his National Football League seasons as a member of the Steelers. He appeared in 114 games, contributing 83 tackles, two sacks, and recovering a fumble.
The Steelers are known for making career-long commitments to solid players, and Hoke - who also played on the Steelers' Super Bowl XLV team that lost to the Green Bay Packers in February 2011 - was happy to be a part of the organization.
"Their continuity breeds success,'' Hoke said of the Steelers' management game plan with many of the players. "The record has shown that the way they run their organization, the way they run their scouting department, and the way they run the draft and how they execute their plan has been very successful and effective.''
The Steelers finished only 8-8 last season, but Hoke refuses to consider the team in a rebuilding mode. He has faith in Roethlisberger's established success, and also in the Steelers' management, which has elected not to re-sign veteran nose tackle Casey Hampton and is turning to the younger Steve McLendon instead.
"They're not rebuilding, I would say they're refocusing,'' said Hoke, who stands 6-foot, 2 inches and has streamlined down to 240 pounds from his playing weight of more than 300. "Any time you've got Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, you have a chance to be successful.''
A sunny morning greeted the 112 golfers on hand at Friday's event that raises scholarship money for deserving Mount Aloysius students who demonstrate a financial need.
"I think it's good to get sports celebrities here to [provide] some additional interest for folks in the community to participate in this event,'' said Jennifer Dubuque, Mount Aloysius' Vice President of Institutional Advancement. "And we're glad it's not raining.''
A neck injury suffered in an October 2011 game against Jacksonville hastened Hoke's retirement from football after that season. Married and the father of five young children, Hoke's life is still very full. Hoke and his family live in Pittsburgh's north suburbs and he is involved in radio and television Steelers' football analysis for station KDKA.
"I'm really busy,'' Hoke said with a grin. "I'm also looking to get into coaching at some point.''