Steelers' Chris Hoke retires after 11 years

Age, neck surgery convince NT to exit

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Chris Hoke never will forget his first start in the NFL, not after pulling on a uniform for just two games in his first three seasons. It was against undefeated New England, the defending Super Bowl champions, in 2004 at Heinz Field.

"That was the first game I started and first-ever big moment for me," the veteran Steelers nose tackle said Wednesday. "My mom and dad flew in, and my wife was there. To run out of that tunnel as a starter was a really big moment for me and my family."

Another arrived Wednesday when Hoke announced his retirement from football after 11 seasons with the Steelers. His final one in 2011 ended prematurely after six games because of a neck injury that subsequently required surgery.

"That played into it," Hoke said. "It's just time. It's the neck, I'll be 36 in April, it's all those things. It's just time."

Hoke said those things did not make it easier to hang it up one day after doctors officially cleared him to play football again.

"I've been blessed. It's been awesome and it's hard to walk away. I put my heart and soul into this thing for 11 years."

Hoke will go down as one of the franchises great backup players. He started only 18 regular-season games in those 11 seasons but had a good, long run for an undrafted player from Brigham Young -- and quite a record. The team's record in his 18 starts -- all at nose tackle for an injured Casey Hampton -- was 17-1. Those included his two starts for Hampton in 2011, victories against Tennessee and Jacksonville at Heinz Field, the final games of his career.

"Look at the way I came in," said Hoke, who arrived the same year they drafted Hampton in the first round in 2001 and leaves with two Super Bowl rings. "Who would have thought I'd be here 11 years?"

His fervent hope would be to return to his beloved BYU as a coach, although he does not know if that can happen. If not, he'd like to stay in Pittsburgh and is open to "everything."

"Right now, I just want to enjoy my family," said Hoke about wife Jaimee and their five children. "I want to see what's out there. I've built a lot of relationships over the years. I'd love to get involved in radio or TV; I think I could be great at that."

Rooney II on Arians' exit

Steelers president Art Rooney II offered a slightly different version of Bruce Arians' departure than the official announcement by the team last week that the offensive coordinator had retired.

In a video interview on the team's website, Steelers.com, Rooney answers a question about reports and comments made by Arians that he retired only after Rooney refused to renew his contract. The Post-Gazette reported that coach Mike Tomlin told Arians he wanted him back and that Arians wanted to return.

"I think the questions of how we got here are not really relevant," Rooney said. "Mike has begun the search for our next offensive coordinator, and he'll do a good job finding the right person. We'll go through the process and interview the right candidates. We're looking to improve on offense and have somebody possibly to be in place for a number of years.

"Bruce had talked about retirement for a few years now. I think it was time for a change, and we're looking forward to moving on."

Also in the interview on Steelers.com, Rooney said that, while Nike has earned the rights to produce all NFL teams' uniforms starting in 2012, fans will see no changes in the Steelers uniform. He did say, however, that the team will introduce a new throwback jersey for 2012.

Clark heads to Pro Bowl

The Steelers announced Wednesday that safety Ryan Clark has been named to the AFC Pro Bowl squad, replacing injured Baltimore safety Ed Reed. It will be the 10-year veteran's first trip to the Pro Bowl, which is Sunday in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Clark will join four other Steelers on the AFC roster -- quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, wide receiver Mike Wallace, kick-return specialist Antonio Brown and linebacker James Harrison. Center Maurkice Pouncey and safety Troy Polamalu were voted onto the team by fellow players, but they will not play because of injury.


For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com and Twitter @EdBouchette .


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