It’s a car that came into the league in 1998 and has taken me all the way around Steeler Nation and still runs pretty well today.
It does break down every once in a while, and when I bring it to the shop the mechanic asks me, “How old is this thing?”
And I say, “How old is Hines Ward?”
And then we have a good laugh.
But the ride is over. Ward, who also came into the league in 1998, is leaving. At least he’s leaving Pittsburgh. So I may need a new car, just like the Steelers need a new beast.
Sure, it’s a clunker of an analogy, but it's hard saying goodbye to something so reliable. So all I can say to Hines is what Neil Young once said in a song about his old car: “Long May You Run.”
* I met Hines Ward at minicamp in “the ghetto” of the Three Rivers Stadium locker room in 1998. It was an annex of the locker room where the Steelers put all of their rookies, except for their first three draft picks. Ward was the fourth that year, but regardless of his status Hines was ebullient that day. You could tell right then that he had found his new home.
* What a champ, I thought. “Rookie of the Year,” I wrote.
* Ward didn’t win any awards that season, but who will ever forget the tackles he made on special teams that first preseason? Or his number 15?
* I remember the Monday night game in Kansas City in 1998, when Ward came out of the huddle trying to get the glove off his right hand, and I remember thinking that something was up just before he got the ball and threw a 17-yard pass back to Kordell Stewart on third-and-10.
* Ward’s friend Bobby Shaw once told me to ask Ward about the “target board.” It was something Ward had put up in the wide receivers’ meeting room. “If there’s a DB who wants to play dirty, trying to punk somebody out, we’ll put him on there,” Ward explained. “Once he’s on there, somebody has to go after him on every play.”
* The “target board” came to symbolize the rest of Ward’s career. It was born out of a response to a cheap shot Bills safety Kurt Schultz had put on Troy Edwards during a preseason game.
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