LATROBE, Pa. - Merril Hoge knows what late Steelers Coach Chuck Noll meant to the Steelers organization. And what Noll meant to Hoge personally, was something words can't fully express.
"Chuck, let just say he was a special person," said Hoge.
Hoge was reflecting on Noll as he was preparing to kick things off as the honorary co-chair for the second annual Steelers Charity Walk at Saint Vincent College on beautiful Saturday morning, a walk that benefited the Chuck Noll Foundation.
"Chuck is the one who got all of the research started," said Hoge. "We are carrying that on.
"If you think of the bedrock of all of the change in head trauma, it starts right in Pittsburgh. From the helmet safety campaign we launched back in 1989, to Chuck Noll challenging the doctors to do something more. Think of that challenge alone and how much further we have come, how much safer sports are in general.
"What our challenge is now is we have a rotten narrative that is wrong being spread about head trauma, when it's the safest it ever has been in the sport. Instead of people running to get your kids to athletic events and sports, we are taking them out because we are uninformed."
Hoge has firsthand knowledge of sports concussions, having suffered several during his playing days. But he also understands that the game is safer now, and a lot of that is because of what Noll started.
"What we are doing with the Chuck Noll Foundation is advancing research so we can get better with protocols and how we go about practicing and playing," said Hoge "We are constantly evolving and getting better. It all started with the Rooney family and Chuck, so why not be the organization that continues to grow and evolve with this particular message and injury.
"Heads Up Football was all Chuck Noll. Chuck used to say be a better, safer player. I remember him talking about the fundamentals here at camp, and he would teach us how to do it. He would say safer, and I thought what did he mean? I learned that if I am in the right position, I am structurally safer all over. When we needed direction for youth football who did we lean on…Chuck Noll. When we needed to advance and do something about the injury, he is the one that challenged it. It doesn't fall on deaf ears because Mr. (Dan) Rooney supported it.
"Now that I look back, it's historic. One of the greatest coaches of all time thought outside of the box. We have the best neurologist in the world working on it. And Mr. Rooney was behind it. Now Art Rooney has taken it and it's continuing to grow. Now we are giving information to people so they can be empowered instead of scared."
The Foundation's mission is to help provide funding for "research projects relating to the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of injuries of the brain occurring primarily in sports activities." Noll was a coach who was committed to his players, caring about them on and off the field. It was that commitment that eventually led to the development of the ImPACT test, a post-concussion assessment and cognitive test now used by the NFL, MLB, NHL, NASCAR, and by over 12,000 colleges and high schools in the United States. And it all began with encouragement from Noll.
"The great thing we have with the Chuck Noll Foundation is the research that we are able to support," said Steelers President Art Rooney II. "We have a great scientific advisory committee that is guiding us in where the money should go. Days like today help us to support the cause.
"It's great to be able to this and carry on his legacy and the things he cared about. I hope we can continue to grow."
The 2nd annual Steelers Charity Walk was held at Saint Vincent College benefiting the Chuck Noll Foundation.