View Full Version : An article I wrote on Hines today

03-01-2012, 01:09 PM
I wanted to write something on my favorite Steeler of all-time, and I thought maybe people would enjoy a perspective that isn't canned by newspaper constraints or jaded by 14 years of covering him up close. It's a little lengthy (not too bad) but I truly feel that we all need to take a moment, stop talking about Wallace and the future and pay tribute to a true Steeler great.

By D. McDonough
Let me tell you about Hines Ward - both as a football player and how he has affected my life. Hopefully it will make sense by the end.

It is summer, 2004. I am browsing through the Pittsburgh Steelers online shop deciding which new jersey to purchase. My youth extra-large Kordell Stewart jersey, number 10, four seasons of service under its belt, just doesn't fit my 14-year-old body as comfortably as it did my 11-year-old one. My other jersey, #36 for running back Jerome Bettis, is a cheap knock-off model. It's definitely time to upgrade. My eyes wander over the other options (too early to buy the #7 jersey that unproven rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will sport in the fall), but the choice is fairly obvious, at least for me.

There is something about Hines Ward - number 86, half-black, half-asian, improbably using his undersized frame to knock senseless players much bigger than he - that makes Heinz Field somehow look like the happiest and scariest place on Earth at the same time. He viciously collides with an opposing player one second and flashes a smile akin to a child's expression at Disney World the next. It is that signature toothy grin - and I write this as a firmly straight man - that plays a large role in endearing him to Steeler Nation, which is itself largely made up of gruff, bearded men in hardhats (I mean that as a compliment to my fan base.) He takes his wide receiver position, the most glamorous position in football, and embraces blocking, the least glamorous part of it. While other wide receivers of the infamous "diva" variety such as Terrell Owens and Randy Moss have traditionally shied away from blocking, Hines seems to love nothing more than taking a man much bigger and stronger than he is and planting him firmly on his ass.

I bought a black Hines Ward jersey that day, with his pint-sized last name befitting his small stature stenciled in gold letters on the back. It has been with me ever since, an inanimate object that has become a companion of mine on fall Sundays for 7 seasons (in an inanimate object sort of way, of course.) I wore it for each of our two Super Bowl victories in my lifetime. It clothed my distraught self as I witnessed some devastating playoff exits, against the Patriots in 2004, the Jaguars in 2007 and the Packers in the 2011 Super Bowl. I wore it to the Meadowlands for a 2004 game against the Giants, at Heinz Field during my first pilgrimage there in 2006, and again at Giants Stadium against the Jets in 2007. It was lightly tossed into my hamper after wins with a contented flick, and it was angrily fired across my room after disappointing defeats. By now, the numbers have cracked, the white stripes on the sleeves have seen more than a hint of black creep into them, and the patch on the chest is slowly peeling off - it has simply seen too much stress not to wither some in its old age. I still brought it out on game day several times this season, particularly for our final game against the Browns when Hines was only five catches short of 1,000 for his career, a milestone he joined just seven other players in achieving.

Through it all that jersey has stood for a player who to me exemplifies Steeler football - that is to say, joyously physical and delightfully nasty. Hines (it feels weird, as one Pittsburgh columnist noted today, to call him "Ward) improbably packaged all the qualities of a reliable possession receiver - good hands, precise route-running and a nose for the goal line - with an aggressive propensity for bone-crushing blocks that eventually earned him an undeserved label as a headhunter. His reputation when viewed positively (which he always was by Steeler Nation) was one of a feared player who always played hard, team-first and (most importantly) clutch football every time he laced up his spikes.

Hines has been a member of this organization - in my humble and slightly biased opinion, the most respected and best-run in the NFL - for 14 seasons. To put that in perspective, his career has spanned Kordell Stewart, Tommy Maddox, Ben Roethlisberger and 9 seasons under Bill Cowher and 5 under Mike Tomlin. He has been flanked by Charles Johnson, Will Blackwell, Plaxico Burress, Cedrick Wilson, Antwaan Randle El, Nate Washington, Santonio Holmes and Mike Wallace, with Jerome Bettis, Amos Zereoue, Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall in the backfield. He is the last Steeler who played at both Three Rivers Stadium and Heinz Field.

Alongside all of those teammates, in both stadiums and in a whole bunch of opposing venues, Hines Ward has provided big moments for this football team that he always infused with joy. I won't painstakingly list all of them here, because if you're a die-hard Steeler fan you should remember them as vividly as I do. I would just like everyone to remember one thing today, whether you agree with the move to let Hines go or not. You won't find a bigger Hines supporter than me, but in all truth (and taking into account the intangibles he would bring to the table with our young receivers) I believe this was a smart football decision.

It is rare in the free agency era of today to have a player - any player - for as long as we have had Hines Ward. He took a position that has produced so many locker room cancers and instead used it to lead his team. He was the consummate teammate, even when he called out Roethlisberger on national TV for milking an injury in 2009 (not a claim I necessarily agree with, but there must have been something there for Hines to mention it so publicly.) How many legends would have reacted to a season like the one Hines just went through - in which he lost his starting job and fell all the way to number five on his team's depth chart - like he did? Instead of sulking and playing the poor-me game, he didn't miss a beat, played when he was needed and actively mentored a very promising young group of receivers destined to take the torch from him.

It will be sad for all of us if Hines decides to go the way of Franco Harris, Joe Montana and any number of all-time greats who wore one set of colors for most of their careers and finished them in another set. While I do think that he could definitely help a number of teams out there as a third receiver and team leader, my advice to my favorite football player of all time would be this: Ride off into the sunest, Hines. We know it's not about the money. Take all the Steeler receiving records that you hold, your two Super Bowl rings, your distinguished Hall of Fame career and (I'm sure not least in importance) the gobs of cash you earned playing this game and go home. Put a neat bow on an outstanding career and cement its only colors as Black and Gold.

Hell, I can't help adding some of Hines' greatest Steeler moments. We'll do it bullet-point style, to save words.

- Any number of plays from the XL Super Bowl run: the touchdown to put us up big at the half in Denver that followed the famous "jump-catch-get-drilled-by-John-Lynch" play and the indelible image of him skipping into the end zone in the fourth quarter against Seattle with that unforgettable grin bursting out of his helmet Or Hines yanking that Colts' defenders' facemask like he wanted to take it home with him. Or the catch on third-and-28 that set up Ben's phantom Super Bowl touchdown. Or...

- The pulverizing blocks - Rivers, Reed, Suggs, Orpheus Roye...

- In their haste to declare him done this season (which, sadly, he appeared to be) people tended to forget that Hines had several game-changing plays for us during last year's run to the Super Bowl, including a touchdown during the comeback against the Ravens as well as the touchdown just before the half against Green Bay that put us back in the game. Bonus points because he also had the reception that set up that touchdown.

Steel Peon
03-01-2012, 08:11 PM
There's so much to say about Hines that it's really hard to summarize all the things he's done for the Steelers, but I think you did a really damn good job..........hope you get published!:tt04::tt02::helmet::tt::tt03::sign01:

Lady Steel
03-03-2012, 12:18 AM
Excellent article, LTW56. If it hasn't been posted on the Steelers Fever homepage, it should be, in my opinion. Kudos to you. :tt:

03-05-2012, 07:23 AM
you know so much about Hines .. awesome article ,LTW56