Q&A: Chris Hope on ’99 champs, finding balance in life and his book

The drive to win a national championship was year-round. Literally.

Former Florida State safety Chris Hope recalls getting on the team bus the morning after the Sugar Bowl win over Virginia Tech in January 2000. And already the talk had turned forward.

“We always believed that we could win,” Hope told the Osceola this week when reflecting on the 1999 title season. “And then there’s a bittersweet kind of feeling because I think when your expectation is that high, and that it’s a championship or bust, you don’t really get to take it in as much. I remember winning a championship. And I remember we had to check out and get on the buses and get to the airport the next day to go back to Tallahassee, and I can just remember coach (Chuck) Amato and coach (Mickey) Andrews checking us off as we entered onto the bus and the first thing they said was, ‘Get ready for the team meeting and mat drills because we are trying to do it all over again next year.’ I don’t even remember celebrating as much. That’s the fight and the curse of only expecting to win all the time.”

Hope had 234 tackles and nine interceptions at FSU from 1998-2001. He graduated magna cum laude in under four years and was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he won a Super Bowl after the 2005 season as part of an 11-year NFL career with the Steelers, Tennessee Titans and Atlanta Falcons.

The 39-year-old Hope has written a book, PROS, and speaks to athletes and teams. He lives in Nashville and will return to FSU this weekend as part of a reunion for the 1999 champs. Hope spoke with the Osceola by phone about his time at FSU and the importance of writing his book.

Why did you choose FSU?

Hope: It was a dream school of mine. To have the opportunity to play at Florida State, a school that I watched consistently on Saturdays. Once I understood the proximity of the school, I realized that the farthest my parents would have to travel to see me play would be at Tallahassee at the home game. Rock Hill, S.C., was basically in the middle of all the teams that we play – Clemson, Wake Forest, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Maryland, Virginia. Playing on national TV every year, had an opportunity to play for a legendary coach in coach Bobby Bowden. And I wanted to challenge myself to be the best player that I could possibly be, and surrounded myself with All-Americans all over the place and five-star recruits all over the place. I had no choice but to sink or swim and it challenged me every day to push myself to become better because we worked extremely hard. I don’t think people realize how hard you worked in those days. And that’s why we were so good. We worked our behinds off every day. And coaches made sure of it and then the ultimate goal was to make it to the national championship, winning championships, get drafted. Obviously, schoolwork was very important to me. Graduated in three and a half years and was an academic All-American. That was very important to me. But Florida State in those days checked off all the boxes – good weather, beautiful women, great coaches, great competition, exposure, and it prepared me to play in the NFL with competing and practicing with so many talented receivers and skilled players on the offensive side and made the transition of going into the NFL a little bit easier.

What was the mindset going into 1999? Was the thought that the pieces were there to make a run for the national title?

Hope: When we played at Florida State, no disrespect to any other team that we played against. But we really began every year with the meeting with Coach Bowden. And he would pull out the schedule with the seniors on the poster and all the teams that we would play, and he would go down the schedule, and he would put a W beside every home game. Because back then you didn’t lose at home. And then we would go to the ACC, and put the W beside all ACC games, because back then we didn’t lose in the ACC. And then he said, you know, we would have to be the state champs. And then after that we just have one game, which was the national championship and we obviously didn’t know who we were playing against. That was our mantra every year. I’m not saying it in a cocky, loud, obnoxious way but that was just our mindset. That was the beginning of two-a-days (in August).

As the season goes on, are you checking off the wins? Week by week getting closer to the ultimate goal?

Hope: Coach Bowden prepared us every week with the mindset to win a national championship. But to win a championship, you need some talent, you got to work hard, and you need some love. … I can remember the game against Clemson, you know they treated us pretty tough. It was a hype game because it was the first Bowden Bowl. And we had to go to Death Valley – it was a night game. So we continued to believe in what we could do. We continued to keep our mind focused on holding that championship trophy up at the end of the year. We knew how that bad taste in our mouth was when we lost the Tempe, Ariz., the year before (to Tennessee). And it was just basically destiny for us to win the national championship.

Take us back to the Sugar Bowl preparations and watching Michael Vick on film. Did he look as elusive as he was in reality that night?

Hope: I don’t think so. We had no idea, looking at it now, and looking at the pro career that he had, we had no idea that he would be that. But at the end of the day, and I don’t say this again with any mal intentions. We were Florida State. Michael Jordan, Mike Tyson, we didn’t care. We knew who we were. We ended up winning 46-29. But the game was never close to us. We never went into panic mode. It was a great experience.

You went up against great players in practice – receivers like Peter Warrick, Snoop Minnis and others. How did they help prepare you for Saturdays?

Hope: We had Anquan Boldin. We had Laverneus Coles. Javon Walker. Talman Gardner. Greg Moore. Robert Morgan, he was one of the best route-runners that we had that never had a chance to explode on the scene because of injuries. Atrews Bell. We had enough guys to get you better. But Peter Warrick was on a different level. The things that you saw on Saturdays, we’ve seen even better on Mondays through Fridays. He just works so hard. It’s amazing when you have your best athletes, your captains, your leaders, your seniors, working hard just like a freshman, just like a guy who is not on the field. That sets the standard for what our program was about. We had so many great players, but there was not one of them that was not a hard worker.

You graduated magna cum laude from Florida State. What does that mean to you and why was working in the classroom so important to you?

Hope: From a very young age I knew that playing the game of football, it’s going to come to an end. My parents, my teachers and my grandparents, they all instilled in me that football is your plan B. Academics is your plan A. And I really bought into that because I knew how fragile the body is. So I created that mindset at a very young age and it just followed me throughout my career. When you say you’re a pro, everything you do has to resemble being a pro. Being on time, how you walk, how you talk, how you present yourself, how you respect others, how you treat others, and I couldn’t see myself being this All-American, All-ACC, All-Pro safety, Super Bowl and national championship safety and then be a terrible student or terrible dad. That wasn’t part of my DNA. Everything that I do, making a bed, washing a car, vacuuming a floor, I try to do it to perfection. And I guess that’s why, again, Florida State was the perfect fit for me. 

Tell us about your book, PROS?

Hope: My book is called PROS – Parents relying on their seeds. And it is a book based on biblical principles and in my experiences in life, throughout my journey on how to create healthy boundaries and still be a loving person. So many people, we all are in pursuit of success, whatever that looks like in our own perspective, but no one tells us what happens when we have or obtain success. That’s where I think a breakdown in this culture in this world has come. We have so many people that are successful, whether it be wealthy, famous, or highly intelligent, whatever the case may be, but they have broken relationships. They’re lonely, they’re angry. They’re resentful, have all these negative characteristics about themselves. But from the outside looking in, everyone thinks that their life is amazingly great because they’re successful, they’re rich, they’re wealthy. But on the inside, they’re dying because every relationship that they’ve had is broken. And it’s because of bad boundaries or expectations or hidden agendas. And I think I never wanted to be that guy. But I found myself throughout my career heading down that road. And as a kid, if somebody would have come to me and said that I could achieve all my dreams and goals in life, but I wouldn’t have those that I love the most to celebrate my success with, I wouldn’t have taken the deal. So my book is about how to create healthy boundaries, still be a loving person, not feel guilty for your success, how to give back and teach people how to fish and not just always give them a fish. It talks about creating those healthy relationships and putting all the expectations out on the table in the front of the beginning of the process to whereas, when it happens, we will always be already prepared for what’s going on, what’s going to happen next. From an athletics perspective, being a African-American male, coming from humble beginnings, our culture, our society, our TV, our rap music, it all teaches us that we have to give back to the communities that we come from. They misquote the Bible in the terms of taking care of your mother and father. The Bible says, honor your mother and father. But that doesn’t come with a house and a picket fence and a Mercedes-Benz and a cash account. It just means that you have to be a respectable, God-fearing, good person in this world. Put out good energy. When you become successful so many of our parents, being that I’m a parent now, we force our expectations on our children through our life experiences and sometimes that’s not the thing to do. And from the perspective of an athlete, so many of our parents are dependent on us to create this life. That drives a wedge between the athlete and the parent. So, that book, from that perspective, is to go out and help the next generation of athletes, entrepreneurs, businessmen, entertainers, all shapes and walks of life, to create those healthy boundaries on the front end, so that when success does happen you can turn around and have somebody that you love the most to celebrate with.

Hope’s book can be purchased through Amazon.com here.

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