View Full Version : Steelers' Ward has secured place in football history

12-25-2010, 11:41 PM
Steelers' Ward has secured place in football history
By Scott Brown
Sunday, December 26, 2010

The individual accomplishments are as staggering as his blocks.

Hines Ward has scored more touchdowns 83 than any Steeler not named Franco Harris, holds almost every notable franchise receiving record and is 10th on the NFL's all-time receiving list with 11,657 yards.

What has cemented his legacy, at least in his eyes: He has won two Super Bowls and has a chance to add a third ring with the Steelers (11-4) on track for a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs.

"That's what changed me," Ward said of winning. "I remember when I was young, I always used to complain because I thought stats were what made somebody because that's what everybody looked at."

Ward is on pace for his worst statistical season since 2000, but he was hardly complaining after a recent practice. The 13-year veteran flashed the smile that has infuriated opponents and fans alike, as he recalled a blocking drill at the University of Georgia.

A running back had to run between two cones that were several yards apart and past a defender in that space. The drill called for receivers to dislodge a defender from an imaginary line of scrimmage or lock down one who had gotten a running start at the running back. If the defender even touched the running back, he won.

The collisions were so violent that former Georgia receivers coach Darryl Drake said, "You probably couldn't do those kinds of drills today, but that's kind of what we did. Hines just absolutely loved that drill."

Looking back, Drake sees a deeper sense of purpose in those drills for Ward, something beyond just showing that he was a tough guy, as New York Jets coach Rex Ryan admiringly and more bluntly referred to Ward as recently.

"His No. 1 goal was to be able to have a chance to provide for his mother," said Drake, who recruited Ward to Georgia and is now the Chicago Bears' receivers coach. "He was obsessed with success for one reason, and that's so he could make a better life for her."

Breaking the mold

Twelve receivers were selected before Ward in the 1998 NFL Draft. That is still a point of contention with him.

Ward slipped to the end of the third round because of questions about his left knee he has no ACL and his inexperience at receiver. Ward has outperformed nearly every receiver in his class.

He has more receiving yards in six different seasons than the four players taken ahead of him in the third round have combined in their careers. His four Pro Bowl appearances are four more than any receiver drafted ahead of him not named Randy Moss.

Moss and Ward are two of the top players from a class that included Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, and they couldn't be more different physically.

The 6-foot-4 Moss is rangy with blinding speed and superior leaping ability. He is a dream receiver, at least from the neck down. Ward has a thick neck and torso that call to mind a fullback or linebacker. The 6-foot, 205-pounder has long endured jokes that he could be timed in the 40-yard dash with a sundial.

"He's the worst-built receiver in the league," Steelers free safety Ryan Clark said with a smile. "He's just a guy that will block his butt off to the whistle, that spends extra time studying defenses and learning coverages."

Ward showed plenty of football acumen at Georgia. He shuttled among quarterback, running back and receiver his first two seasons before settling in at receiver.

"He's one of the top three smartest players at any position I've ever (coached)," said Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, Ward's position coach from 2004-06. "He knows what his body can do. He knows what the defense is trying to do, and he can take his offense and beat you. That's what separates him."

So does his physicality.

Ward may be the best blocking receiver in NFL history, and he boasts a collection of made-for-YouTube hits which hasn't always endeared him to opponents, particularly in Baltimore.

"We tried to knock his head off, and he was trying to knock our head off," said Ryan, the Ravens' defensive coordinator before taking the Jets' head job. "That is who he is, and that is who he will always be. I remember (cornerback) Samari Rolle tried to tackle him once, and he knocked him out. It was like, 'Wow.' "

Ward has never apologized for his style of play. That has made him beloved in a city that lost its steel mills long ago but never its blue-collar sensibilities.

"A lot of (receivers) are just fast and use their speed," he said. "I like to think of myself as a football player."

The sacrifices of a mother

Ward has spent his career trying to disprove his doubters real or perceived. But that's only half of his story. He also has been driven to show his mother that she raised him right.

Young Ward prepared airline meals, cleaned hotel rooms and worked nights as a convenience store cashier to provide for her only son. The sacrifices his mother, a native of South Korea, made impressed upon Ward the importance of fulfilling what he considered his end of the deal.

"I could have skipped class and gone down the wrong street, but I knew my mom was working her tail off providing for me, and I wanted to be able to repay her," said Ward, who grew up in suburban Atlanta. "I was being teased, guys calling me nerds or 'You're a sellout.' I didn't really care for that. I just wanted to get to the next level and play football."

He could have gone to just about any school, as Drake learned one night when he showed up for Ward's high school basketball game and spied Notre Dame's Lou Holtz and Florida State's Bobby Bowden in the stands. Ward opted to stay close to home, and his exploits at Georgia are legendary. He thew for a Peach Bowl-record 413 yards with a badly sprained right wrist and left the school trailing only Herschel Walker in all-purpose yards.

Ward also graduated in 3 1/2 years, becoming the first member of his family to earn a degree. That is the accomplishment, he said, that his mother is most proud of.

"I was scared of failure, and I always wanted to be successful," said Ward, who has a degree in economics. "Not just for my mom's approval but just myself in general. That's all the motivation I need."

Will the Hall call?

Ward, 34, has found extra incentive from perceived slights throughout the years, namely the Steelers using three first-round picks on receivers since 1999.

"Still to this day, I feel like I've got to climb over Mt. Everest just to solidify that I'm pretty good wide receiver," Ward said. "Even if I do, there's still the (perception) of, 'Is he one of the elite guys in the league?' Or 'Is he still a top-tier wideout in the league?' "

The larger question of Ward's place in NFL history ultimately will be decided by the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His eligibility clock for Canton starts ticking when he retires whether that is after this season, after 2013 when his contract expires or somewhere in between.

It has become increasingly difficult for receivers to gain entrance into football's most exclusive club. Cris Carter is a prime example.

Carter, third on the NFL's all-time list in receptions and fourth in touchdown catches, has been passed over three times in large part because voters have cast a wary eye on numbers posted during a pass-happy era.

If that hurts Ward when he becomes eligible, his blocking might make him stand out on the ballot. So would a third Super Bowl title. Ward said last spring he would retire if the Steelers win the Super Bowl this season.

When he does leave, he will do so with no regrets.

"Everything I got to this point, I worked my (behind) off to get," Ward said. "I wouldn't ask for it any other way because nothing was ever given to me.

"I've earned everything."

Sounding off

Steelers receiver Hines Ward weighs in on ...

His longevity:

"I didn't expect myself to be playing this long, maybe five years. I started off behind the 8 ball. I was a special teams guy. Once I got my opportunity, I (never looked back). Then, they started drafting guys, and it didn't bother me because it wasn't what other guys were going to do. It was all about me. If I started messing up, then that's on me."

Lasting until the final pick of the third round of the 1998 NFL Draft:

"I think (Patriots quarterback) Tom Brady said it best. Still to this day he always plays with a chip on his shoulder because of all the teams that passed him over. You're always going to have that feeling."

Not putting up big numbers this season like Bengals receiver Terrell Owens:

"T.O.'s having a great year, but they're losing. For me, I'd rather be winning and, when my number's called, help make plays for our team. I'm all about success. I want to win."

His approach to the game:

"I keep lobbying Coach (Dick) LeBeau to let me get in the game and blitz a little bit. I've always had that defensive mentality playing offense." (I'd like to see that. Maybe against the Clownies. - mesa)

High praise

What others are saying about Ward:

"To put up the numbers he put up here, especially when we were truly a run-first offense, it's pretty incredible, given that they've also drafted four or five first-round receivers, and he's still the only one here." Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu

"I could talk all day about the effort, the will to win, his determination and his toughness. But we've been seeing that for 15 years or however long he's been playing. He's a warrior." Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger

"I remember my first meeting, he helped me organize my folder. Something that small meant a lot. It showed me how to organize my plays, how to study, what to write down." Steelers rookie receiver Antonio Brown

"I remember our first scrimmage, we were scrimmaging the Redskins, and I got into a scuffle with a linebacker, and he was the first guy to jump into the fight. I could tell right then that this dude is a warrior." Former Steelers running back Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala, who was in the same draft class as Ward

"Probably the best free safety I had ever seen. He would just absolutely kill you." Chicago Bears receivers coach Darryl Drake on his recruitment of Ward when Drake was at Georgia

"He always has to play with that chip on his shoulder, practice with that chip on his shoulder. I always love it when he's real edgy because I know he's ready to play." Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians

Hidden gem

Twelve receivers were selected before Ward in the 1998 NFL Draft. A look at how their careers have played out:

Player, Selecting team, G, Rec. Yds., Avg., TD

First round

Kevin Dyson, Titans, 59, 178, 2,325, 13.1, 18,

Randy Moss, Vikings, 200, 953, 14,840, 15.6, 153

Second round

Jerome Pathon, Colts, 101, 260, 3,350, 12.9, 15

Jacquez Green, Buccaneers, 66, 162, 2,311, 14.3, 7

Patrick Johnson, Ravens, 70, 84, 1,286, 15.3, 10

Germane Crowell, Lions, 54, 184, 2,722, 14.8, 16

Tony Simmons, Patriots, 49, 58, 998, 17.2, 6

Joe Jurevicius, Giants, 133, 323, 4,119, 12.8, 29

Third round

Brian Alford, Giants, 4, 2, 18, 9.0, 1

E.G. Green, Colts, 29, 54, 665, 12.3, 2

Jammi German, Falcons, 35, 20, 294, 14.7, 2

Larry Shannon, Dolphins, 2, 0, 0, 0

Hines Ward, Steelers, 201, 949, 11,657, 12.3, 82

Chart toppers

A look at the top five receivers, statistically, in Steelers history:

Player, Years, G, Rec. Yds., Avg., TD

Hines Ward, 1998-present, 201, 949, 11,657, 12.3, 82

John Stallworth, 1974-87, 165, 537, 8,723, 16.2, 63

Louis Lipps, 1984-91, 108, 358, 6,018, 16.8, 39

Lynn Swann, 1974-82, 115, 336, 5,462, 16.3, 51

Elbie Nickel, 1947-57, 131, 329, 5,133, 15.6, 37

Scott Brown can be reached at sbrown@tribweb.com or 412-481-5432.

12-26-2010, 01:15 AM
What a great story and what a draft pick!WOW 10th in league history recieving! I almost dont want to win a superbowl so he will keep playing.He has become my personal all time favorite.

12-26-2010, 07:39 AM
Yes...A true Steeler! I hope he continues to play 2 or 3 more years.

12-27-2010, 01:46 PM
Unfortunately, he may only have 1 season left in him. At his price it will get mighty tough to carry him without the production.

We all know there is a limit to the Steelers loyalty. 4 million for 2011 is pushing it.

12-28-2010, 01:45 PM
There isn't a tougher player in this league.

12-28-2010, 04:35 PM
[QUOTE=Curtain_of_Steel;885339]Unfortunately, he may only have 1 season left in him. At his price it will get mighty tough to carry him without the production.

We all know there is a limit to the Steelers loyalty. 4 million for 2011 is pushing it.[/H

Hell we pay Smith 6 mill for about 4 games a year. Of all the over 30s guys we have (a lot) Ward is more productive than any!