Merril Hoge | Crain's Pittsburgh

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Merril Hoge


Merril Hoge, a retired professional football player, is now an analyst at Bristol, Conn.-based ESPN. He played seven seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers and retired in 1994 after one season with the Chicago Bears. At the time of his retirement, forced by post-concussion syndrome, Hoge had the longest consecutive playing streak in the NFL.

Inspired partly by his drive to become a professional football player and partly by his recoveries from cancer and severe brain injuries, Hoge authored “Find a Way: Three Words That Changed and Saved My Life,” which was first published in 2010. He also has become a motivational speaker.

The Mistake:

I wouldn’t call it a mistake but being diagnosed with cancer at 38 was the thing that knocked me down the hardest in my life.

The doctor called with the result of the biopsy. I was told that I had a tumor in my back the shape of a football. I guess that’s appropriate for me but it was hardly welcome news.

I was told I would lose my hair because of the chemo but then I was told, “I can’t guarantee that this is going to work.” That was the most paralyzing thing and it took about two hours to overcome it and begin to move around normally again.

My daughter, Kori, then 9, came and put her arms around my neck and said, “Dad, find a way.” That was the moment of truth for me.

I’ve learned many lessons inside the white lines of the football field, where every Sunday is do or die.

The Lesson:

I called upon all my experiences in my recovery. I’m the product of a lot of people. I’ve learned many lessons inside the white lines of the football field, where every Sunday is do or die. The margin of error there is very small and you don’t get a do-over.

I’ve gotten great inspiration from Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll and Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton. Payton taught me that you’ve got to want it more than everybody else. From Noll, I learned that you have to be uncommon; that you can’t do the minimum, but you must do the maximum.

You need to create a plan. Where you start your day and end your day are very important. You have to focus on what you want to do. And you have to change your thought process.

Doing this instills belief, not just for sports but for life. The perspective of belief is a whole different world. I love this perspective. It makes me appreciate things more, including my family and friends. I don’t get overwhelmed by things. Be grateful for all your days because you can’t count on them always being there.

This perspective can be applied by all people in any organization and that’s why I enjoy speaking about it in public so much.

It took me seven years to write the book but I’m glad I did it. My diagnosis was 13 years ago but it still shapes my life. Part of what led to the book was a friend taking a video of me sitting in a chemo chair, talking about my kids. You have a lot of time to think during a nine-hour chemo session.

My third grandchild was born on my birthday. That strengthened me. You have to keep your body and mind strong but you end up doing it for your team, which are the people in your life.

Merril Hoge is on Twitter at @merrilhoge.

Photo courtesy of Keppler Speakers.

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