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crcsnail
10-21-2006, 01:03 AM
A Super Bowl star comes home

By PAUL NEWBERRY, AP Sports Writer
October 20, 2006

ATLANTA (AP) -- Growing up in the Atlanta area, Hines Ward was a big fan of the Falcons.

He used to attend games at old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. One of his favorite players was Billy "White Shoes" Johnson. He always envisioned himself playing for his hometown team someday

Instead, Ward will be lining up against them on Sunday, a Super Bowl MVP who never forgot his roots.

"This is dream come true to be able to play in the same city where I'm from, against the organization that I grew up idolizing during my whole adolescent years," said Ward, now a star receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Falcons have only themselves to blame for letting Ward get away. Back in 1998, they took Georgia Tech linebacker Keith Brooking in the first round and had a chance to land another local star in the third.

Atlanta passed on Ward and chose Miami's Jammi German, who had a short-lived career in the NFL. The Steelers grabbed Ward with the last pick of the round and wound up with one of the greatest steals in draft history.

He's been to the Pro Bowl the last four seasons. He had a career-best 112 catches in 2002 (German, by the way, was already out of the league by that time). And earlier this year, Ward came through on the biggest stage of all, earning MVP honors in the Steelers' Super Bowl victory over Seattle with a five-catch, 123-yard performance that included a 43-yard touchdown.

As for the Falcons, they are still trying to find the sort of go-to receiver that Ward quickly became in Pittsburgh.

"I just thought I was going to end up being a Falcon," Ward said, remembering his mind-set eight years ago. "With all the stuff I had done over my career at the University of Georgia, I just thought it was a natural pick. But I guess Jammi German was the guy they really liked and they ended up picking him. ... Luckily for me, the Steelers drafted me, and my career just went on from there."

Ward took care of something more personal during this past offseason, traveling with his Korean mother to her native country. She introduced him to a heritage that Ward ran from when he was younger, hurt by the teasing of others for being half-Korean, half-black.

Young Ward showed her son the movie theaters she used to sneak into, the stores she once shopped at, the spots where she hung out.

"There was something missing in my life," Hines Ward said. "I had traveled all over, experienced everything, done everything, taken care of my mom, taken care of myself. But something was missing. My mom is very dear to me. ... I needed to go back to where it all started from."

So did his mother, who left her country under trying circumstances.

Ward's parents met when his father, Hines Ward Sr., was stationed in Seoul during a stint in the U.S. Army. She became pregnant, the couple married and together they all moved to the United States about a year after Hines Jr. was born.

"My mom never expected the warm welcome that we received, being that she left there on a bad note," Ward said. "They treated my mom almost like she was a queen or something. It was an amazing feeling."

The marriage between Ward's parents didn't last, and young Hines spent years shuttling between his mother in the Atlanta area and his paternal grandmother in Louisiana. His father wasn't around much, and Ward struggled to come to grips with the cultural challenges faced by his mother, who spoke little English and often had to work two or three low-paying jobs just to support her son.

Ward eventually came to appreciate the sacrifice made by his mother. He bought her a new home after he was drafted by the Steelers and got her a television package that allows her to watch all the NFL games each week. She not only keeps up with her son, but some of his former college teammates.

It's a far cry from the days when she struggled to comprehend why a field goal counted three points but an extra point was worth only one.

"She tells me what Champ Bailey is doing, what Marcus Stroud is doing, what all the guys I played with at Georgia are doing," Ward marveled. "She's like, 'You know Champ got a pick today.' ... I just chuckle every time she says something like that."

Despite her son's success, Young Ward still heads off to work every day at a high school cafeteria in Atlanta's southern suburbs. She politely declined an interview request, in keeping with her belief that her son deserves all the attention.

Ward, of course, knows better.

"One thing about my mom: A lot of her is in me," he said. "I look at how my career has gone, just working my tail off even when people were telling me I couldn't do this, I couldn't do that. Well, here I am. I've accomplished so much, and I just want to give credit to her. To this day, regardless of how much money we've got, all my mom knows how to do is work, and work hard."

The Falcons have their work cut out for them trying to stop the receiver that could have been one of their own.

"I know Hines Ward is a do-it-all guy," Atlanta cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. "He's going to block you, he's going to be physical with you, he's going to catch passes."

And rest assured, there will be a very proud mother watching from the stands at the Georgia Dome.

stillers4me
10-21-2006, 08:06 AM
Great atrticle...ya beat me to it!!! I love reading about Hines talk about his mom.........

klick81
10-21-2006, 11:18 AM
Dammit, that's just beautiful. He's been able to do everything so many of us wish we could do: Do what you love for a living, AND treat your mother to the things in life she deserves.

stlrtruck
10-21-2006, 04:29 PM
Now I just hope he has this break out homecoming game! Just smoke 'em!!!

SteelCityMan786
10-21-2006, 04:47 PM
I smell break out in front of the atlanta crowd for Hines.

Elvis
10-22-2006, 07:10 AM
:thumbsup: Gotta love a story like that about one's mom or dad..Hines is such a class act in life and he deserves everything that he is getting.. he has worked hard from day one here in Pittsburgh and played like 4 different positions at Georgia.. he is tough enough to shut Hall up as he smacks his head a little....I hope this is the game that he breaks out, but I wouldnt be suprised if he drops his first pass...:jawdrop: