If you recall the 1989 playoffs as vividly as I do, you will remember the pounding that a little know Steelers running back gave to two teams that were both supposed to run roughshot over the Steelers. The player – former 1987 Steelers 10th round draft choice Merril Hoge.
All the back did in playoff games vs the Oilers and Broncos was run for 100 yards one week in the teams upset OT win over Houston, and then the following week he ran all over the AFC’s #1 seed, the Denver Broncos. That day at Mile High, he ran for 120 yards on 18 carries, and caught 8 passes for 60 yards. The Steelers lost the game 24-23, but #33 forever carved his place in Steelers lore.
“Thank you brother, I just wish we could have finished.”
Those were the words from Hoge when I was able to chat with him recently about those games, some of his fondest memories of his playing career, which saw him play for the Steelers and then wrap up his career with a season in Chicago.
Hoge, now 45, is a member of ESPN and also continues to give back to the community by helping out Procter and Gamble with their recent “Take it to the House” photo contest. “Proctor and Gamble is a great company, and a great opportunity to reach out and give back,” Hoge said. “Turns out I have been using their products pretty much all my life, and I love them and what they do and stand for.”
The former Steeler running back was in Pittsburgh this week, meeting up with the Pittsburgh area semi-finalist in the program’s photo contest, Jack DeFillip.
DeFillip submitted a picture of how he and his football family celebrate NFL game day and has won some great prizes, including a $10,000 donation to Stowe Township Parks outside of Pittsburgh in support of NFL PLAY 60, which encourages kids to be active for 60 minutes a day, a meet-and-greet withl Hoge, and a year’s supply of P&G’s products.
Hoge is no stranger to helping others and giving back, and says that in this day and age of players being all over Facebook and Twitter, it’s easier to connect and reach out to fans.
“It’s a lot easier to be a good guy than a jerk,” Hoge said. “I’ve never had a problem talking with fans, signing things, I think it’s important to give back and try and be a good person.”
Last year Hoge put out a book – “Find a Way,” talking about his playing career, his career in broadcasting, and his battle with cancer, a story that is not only good for Steeler fans to read, but an inspiration for everyone.
As far as his career, Hoge did it all, from playing the bruising fullback role for the likes of Barry Foster in 1992, to being the focus of the run game, like when he ran for 772 yards to lead the team in rushing in 1990.
“I was a tweener,” Hoge said. “I felt like I could do it all in an offense. When I went to Chicago, I was supposed to be more of a ball carrier, but things didn’t really work out. That’s just how it goes.” But when asked if he had any regrets, it was a simple reply – “none.”
One thing that is still near and dear to Hoge is the way he is treated by Steelers fans. Anytime he goes back to the black and gold city, Hoge is greeted as warmly as when he wore the number 33 each week back in the late 80’s and early 90’s.
“It was great to play for the Steelers, they always respected you,” Hoge said. “Their fans were smart, they knew their football, and it didn’t matter how good or bad we were, the fans cheered you as long as you left it on the field.”
That’s one thing that Hoge did each and every week. “It’s all about the energy forces we all possess mentally and spiritually,” Hoge said.
For that, he remains a great player in Steelers legacy history, and an even better person off the field as well.
For more information on the program and the contest, please visit www.facebook.com/takeittothehouse.