On a day where almost the entire football world was focused on Denver, Colorado where Peyton Manning and the Broncos held a press conference this afternoon to officially announce his signing, another AFC contender held a press conference of their own for a high profile player. Three weeks after the Pittsburgh Steelers decided to release star wide receiver Hines Ward, the former third round pick out of Georgia and all-time leading receiver for the black and gold, officially announced his retirement from the game of football. In an emotional farewell Hines Ward insisted that he felt he could still play but that “I just wouldn’t feel right” playing for another organization and that he was and is a “Steeler for life”.
Over the course of his career Hines Ward only played for one team since being drafted in the third round of the 1998 draft. Ward’s versatility, great hands, and his attitude of putting it all out on the line for his teammates helped him to accomplish many things out on the field and become a household name for many fans of not only the Steelers but around the entire league. Ward’s propensity to be involved in every play and his incredible work ethic also led to Ward being recognized as one of the best blocking wide-receivers in league history, which is even more surprising given the shift towards the NFL becoming a passing league and the prima donna attitude of many who played his position. Along the way Ward racked up every significant franchise record for the Steelers, including receptions (1,000), receiving yards (12,083), and touchdowns (85). His 1,000 career receptions rank 8th all-time in NFL history as well as having the distinction of being one of only two players in league history to have 1,000 career catches and two Super Bowl rings.
Ward will be remembered for always playing with a big-ass smile on his face and for his generally upbeat attitude no matter what the scoreboard read (and being a WR during the Tommy Maddox days he didn’t always have reasons to be so happy). He will also be remembered for being Super Bowl MVP in Super Bowl XL, where his 5 catches for 123 yards and a touchdown and an 18 yard rush, helped his Steelers defeat the Seattle Seahawks 21-10 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. He also became an extremely popular athlete off the field as his win on ABC’s Season 12 of “Dancing with the Stars” shows.
MVP #86 had a great 14 year NFL career and even as a Patriots fan I admire what he was able to accomplish both on and off the gridiron. The man is loyal to his team, his fans, and himself and he always played the game the right way and kept it fun. He also was smart enough to hang it up at the right time, as there aren’t many things more painful than watching an athlete hang on for too many years past their prime just to try to win an another ring or pad their bank accounts.
As NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said this afternoon “On behalf of the NFL players, I want to congratulate Hines on an extraordinary career,” “I know he will continue to be a leader and example to our men.” As a fan of the league and of sports in general I would like to echo those sentiments.