View Full Version : With another title, Ward demands Hall of Fame consideration

02-01-2011, 06:28 AM
With another title, Ward demands Hall of Fame consideration

By Clark Judge
CBSSports.com Senior Writer
Jan. 31, 2011Tell Clark your opinion!

DALLAS -- It's decision time for Pittsburgh's Hines Ward, and I'm not talking about whether he retires after Super Bowl XLV or not. I'm talking about what happens when he does walk away.

Then what?

You know what I mean. How will Ward be regarded? As a really, really good receiver who led the Steelers to three Super Bowls? Or as an elite one who should join Lynn Swann and John Stallworth in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?

Don't snicker. Ward has more catches, more yards receiving and more touchdowns than Swann or Stallworth -- and it's not close. In fact, his 954 catches are nearly twice as many as Stallworth (537). His 11,702 yards are almost 3,000 more than Stallworth (8,723). And his 83 TDs are 20 more than ... you guessed it ... Stallworth.

So what's the problem? Super Bowls, that's what. But with a third victory, Ward would be only one shy of Stallworth and Swann, which should put him in the conversation. Yeah, I know we're talking about two different eras, with Ward playing when passing is emphasized and its numbers inflated, but tell me he's not a complete receiver ... because he is.

He has sure hands. He makes tough catches. He makes significant catches. He's not afraid to go across the middle. He's one of the game's best and most reliable blockers. And he wins.

"You give me 11 Hines Wards," said former Baltimore coach Brian Billick, now an analyst for Fox and the NFL Network, "and I'll beat you in whatever game you want to play."

And that's my point. It's not numbers that we should pay attention to. It's the guy's body of work, and whenever I think about the Pittsburgh Steelers I can't help but think of Ben Roethlisberger first and Ward second -- and I'm not alone.

Look how he was defended by the New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game. When the Steelers broke the huddle on their opening series Jets' cornerback Darrelle Revis -- arguably the best in the game -- didn't line up opposite Mike Wallace, the team leader in catches and touchdown receptions. He took on Ward.

"If that doesn't tell you how much coaches respect him," said former Steelers' quarterback Mark Malone, now a broadcaster for Westwood One, "I don't know what does. Hines Ward does a lot of things most other receivers don't like to do, like going down the field to knock someone down or throw a block that is critical to making that offense go. He's the heart and soul of that football team. If you're asking me if I think he's a Hall-of-Fame receiver, yes, I think he's a Hall-of-Fame receiver."

Hines Ward hauls in one of his franchise-leading 83 touchdown receptions. (Getty Images)
Hines Ward hauls in one of his franchise-leading 83 touchdown receptions. (Getty Images)
I think it's a push, but that's after checking with some of the Hall's 44 electors. Only one of the persons I consulted said he considered Ward Hall-of-Fame worthy, mostly because he thought his abilities as a receiver and blocker and his knack for making important catches made him "extraordinary." But others either weren't so sure or dismissed the idea, with one voter telling me the Hall of Fame is reserved for the top two or three wide receivers of their generation.

"And I don't think you'd consider Ward one of them," he said.

OK, maybe not. I understand Ward has never been a first-team All Pro, but so what? In 2007, he was named to the Steelers' 75th Season All-Time team. He led the team in catches for 10 consecutive years and tied for the lead in an 11th. He set a team record with 112 receptions in one season. And he was the MVP of Super Bowl XL.

Right there, you have qualifications that at least make him Hall-of-Fame attractive. There's longevity. There's productivity. And there's a distinguished performance on the sport's biggest stage.

"Plus," said one AFC defensive coordinator, "he was damn near uncoverable in the slot."

Now we're talking.

"To me," said one NFC head coach, "he's a tougher Wayne Chrebet. He's unbelievably reliable in terms of consistently catching the ball, like Wayne was, and he's very savvy in terms of understanding where he needs to be in zone coverages.

"He's good in man-to-man coverage, especially when he's in the slot, but he's a much better blocker than Wayne was -- and Wayne was tough. A lot of times when we talked about Hines Ward we called him the wide receiver- version of a tight end, and that's a testament to the guy."

So is this: At 34, he's still enough of a weapon that the Jets felt compelled to put their best cornerback on him. I know he doesn't run as he once did. I know he doesn't make as many catches or score as many touchdowns, either. But he is, as Billick said, "the complete package," and shouldn't that count for something?

It does with me.

"There are a lot of gifted receivers," said Billick, "but if you said, 'Pick five receivers for your team,' yeah, there are a lot of incredible athletes out there you would naturally gravitate toward, from Calvin Johnson to Andre Johnson to Larry Fitzgerald -- guys who can generate the numbers where you can say that maybe this is a better receiver from a tactical or strategic standpoint or from a size or speed standpoint.

"But in terms of the overall mentality and what he brings to the table in terms of competitiveness, the complete package and the clutch catches, I'm not sure Hines Ward wouldn't be one of them."

Predictably, Ward on Monday was asked about retirement, but, as he did last week, indicated he's not ready to make that decision. I know, I know, he told a group of high-school students prior to this season that he'd quit if he won a third Super Bowl. Big deal. It's a free country, and the guy apparently changed his mind.

"I don't want the game to push me away if I still think I can make plays," he said. "Statistically I may be down, but a lot of guys statistically are down this year. I still love the game. I'm still playing at a high level. And as long as I can do that I'm still going to be playing football."

But when he doesn't ... then what? Well, then we have ourselves a debate, people, and let the conversation begin.

02-01-2011, 07:16 AM
Ward demands Hall-of-Fame consideration regardless of titles now