Ward rates with best for Steelers
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Hines Ward caught touchdown passes from the worst and the best of Steelers quarterbacks, from Kent Graham to Ben Roethlisberger. He caught passes from six starters, not counting his most important, from fellow receiver Antwaan Randle El in Super Bowl XL.
Three more touchdown receptions and 445 more yards and he will have almost every team receiving record worth holding. That's not bad on a franchise that boasts Lynn Swann and John Stallworth as alumni.
Those two Pro Football Hall of Fame receivers will be on hand Monday night when the Steelers celebrate their all-time 75th anniversary team and play the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field. They all will get to watch the third receiver on that 75th anniversary team, Hines Ward.
"We have Baltimore coming to town and there's no love lost there," Ward said. "It's a divisional game, it's going to be a special night, Monday night, the 75th anniversary. We have a bunch of guys back, we're going to wear our throwback uniforms. What better way to go than beat up on the Baltimore Ravens on Monday night?"
Few thrive off that kind of competition the way Ward does. He would have fit right in with Swann and Stallworth, who played at their best on the big stages.
Ward has surpassed all of Swann's statistics and some of Stallworth's and is closing in on a few others. His 61 touchdown catches are two from Stallworth's record of 63. His 8,279 yards receiving are 444 from Stallworth's record of 8,723.
Ward already has career records for receptions at 672 and counting, and he's the only receiver to make four Pro Bowls for the Steelers. He owns the top three season records for receptions in team history, starting at 112. His 13 catches in one game is second to Courtney Hawkins' 14. His 1,329 yards in 2002 are third and his 12 touchdowns that same season are tied for first.
"I'm not one of those guys to really look at records as the season's going on, but to be up there right with Stallworth and be close to his record would be an all-time dream come true for me," Ward said.
He hopes to see Swann and Stallworth this weekend, starting Sunday night at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center when the Steelers honor their all-time team.
"I talk to those guys regularly. [Stallworth] wrote me a letter when I broke his receptions record. It's great. The two receivers who epitomize Steelers football -- Stallworth and Swann -- to have my name mentioned with those guys, I'm speechless.
"I'm working my tail off to be mentioned with those guys and now it's starting to get close to it, it's a dream come true."
Ward caught two more touchdown passes Sunday in the 24-13 victory in Cincinnati. On his first, he turned hotshot rookie cornerback Leon Hall inside out, faking a post and then running a corner that left him wide open.
He almost had a third when he caught a 9-yard pass from Ben Roethlisberger that ended at the 1 with him trying to stretch the ball into the end zone. Willie Parker scored on the next play.
That Ward approaches Stallworth's touchdown record is not surprising because he has been money throughout his career anywhere near the goal line, spinning, diving and sometimes plowing his way through to the end zone.
"When we get in the red zone he's one of those guys who sniffs the end zone," Roethlisberger said. "You just know he's going to get in somehow, some way."
His two touchdowns against the Bengals marked the 12th game with multiple touchdown receptions in his 10-year career. (Against Philadelphia in 2004, he caught one scoring pass and ran for another touchdown.) He set his personal high last season in Atlanta when he caught three touchdown passes, tied for second most in a game in club history.
Ward does not catch as many passes as he did when he combined for 217 receptions in the 2002 and '03 seasons, but the MVP of Super Bowl XL has not visibly slowed down at age 31. Even though he missed two games with a sprained MCL in his knee, his 24 receptions are just two off Santonio Holmes' team lead.
"There's a lot of football left in me," Ward declared Sunday night.
Stallworth played through 1987 and then retired shortly before he turned 36.
Ward does not believe he has that much football left in him.
"I don't want to go that long," Ward said, breaking out in a smile. "I can't give numbers, but it won't be five [more] years, I'll tell you that."
Whenever it is, most of the Steelers receiving records will be his.