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Old 01-08-2009, 11:56 AM   #1
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Default Not 'too old': Steelers' Ward still playing with chip on shoulder

Not 'too old': Steelers' Ward still playing with chip on shoulder
By Gary Mihoces, USA TODAY

PITTSBURGH Hines Ward is the Pittsburgh Steelers' all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches. He's a four-time Pro Bowler and a Super Bowl MVP. He is coming off his fifth season with at least 1,000 receiving yards, and he continues to make big plays when they count most.

Yet as Pittsburgh prepares for its playoff showdown against the San Diego Chargers, Ward is playing with the same chip on his shoulder he had when he arrived as a third-round pick out of Georgia in 1998.

At 32, he is still out to prove he can get the job done on a high level in the NFL, and he is fueled by the notion that somehow, somewhere, there are those who doubt that at this stage of his career.

"Every year, it's 'Oh he's getting old, and how much (can) his body take?' " Ward told reporters. "You guys push me every time. I hear you guys saying that I'm too old, I can't do this. Every day I work out, I work out for you guys."

Where that is coming from is uncertain, but it works for Ward.

As a younger player, the 6-0, 205-pounder was on a mission to show you don't have to be the tallest or fastest receiver to be among the best. As an 11-year veteran, he's out to prove he's still an elite player.

The trademarks of his career include jumping up with a smile, no matter how hard the hit he's taken, and delivering downfield blocks worthy of a tackle or tight end.

But the trait that might most define Ward is his desire to prove doubters wrong, even if the doubters might be of his own creation.

"Hines loves to use that as motivation," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin says. "I don't know too many people who are writing Hines off. He is a heck of a player. He tries to trick himself into being underrated, and he is not. He is a heck of a talent, and he has done it at a high level for a long time. We appreciate him."

The Steelers' final regular-season game against the Cleveland Browns meant nothing in the standings. Pittsburgh already had clinched the AFC North and a first-round bye in the playoffs.

But Ward played as if it were a playoff game, catching six passes for 70 yards while achieving career milestones.

By finishing the season with 81 catches for 1,043 yards, he reached the 80-catch and 1,000-yard marks for the first time since 2004. He'd had 975 receiving yards in both 2005 and 2006, and he dropped to 732 yards last season while battling a knee injury.

"To get 1,000 yards coming off three years where I didn't get it, especially last year when I was a hurt all year, it's just a great goal," Ward says.

"You start questioning yourself if you don't get 1,000. But it's all about opportunities, and this year I've gotten my opportunities and I think I've capitalized on most of my opportunities."

Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger left the Cleveland game with a concussion and was replaced by Byron Leftwich and finally rookie Dennis Dixon.

Ward's last reception of the game, a 3-yarder from Dixon, was the 800th catch of his career. Hall of Famer John Stallworth is No. 2 on the Steelers' list with 537 receptions.

"I appreciate it. Eight hundred is a lot of balls," says Ward, also Pittsburgh's all-time leader with 72 TD catches and 9,780 receiving yards.

"I've caught them from all different types. It would be a great trivia question to figure out who threw Hines Ward his 800th catch. It was just great for Dennis Dixon to get his first completion in the NFL.

"All in all, we beat up on the Cleveland Browns. We did what we wanted to do going into the playoffs. It's great (that) along the way I accomplished a goal of catching 800 balls."

Now he focuses on the test ahead in the playoffs. The Steelers went 12-4 against a schedule rated the toughest in the NFL based on records from 2007.

"Look at the grueling schedule that we had and think about playing all the opponents that we played. Every game almost had a playoff atmosphere," Ward says. "It only can help our team, because when you get into the playoffs, you know the opponents are a little better. There's a lot more at stake."

Ward will seek to contribute with the same total package he has displayed throughout his career as a receiver and a blocker.

One of his specialties is the touchdown catch in the red zone. Since 2002, Ward is tied with Terrell Owens for second place in total red-zone touchdowns with 39 (Randy Moss leads with 41). Six of Ward's seven touchdown catches this season have come inside the red zone.

Always regarded as a top blocker, Ward also has been the focus of controversy this season. He was fined twice by the league for unnecessary roughness.

In an October game at the Cincinnati Bengals, he delivered a block that broke the jaw of rookie Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers, ending his season. No penalty was called on the play, and Ward was not fined.

Before the Steelers met the Bengals again in November, Ward defended the hit on Rivers.

"There's nothing cheap about it," he said. "If I really was trying to hurt Rivers, I would have went low at him and tried to take out his knees. But the people that label me as dirty or (a) cheap shot (artist), you're worrying about a little, 200-pound, 32-year-old wide receiver. I'll take that as a compliment."

No, he's not the biggest guy. Yes, he's 32. Doubt him. He'll thank you for it.

"It's you guys, all you guys, the media," he says with his trademark smile. "I love you guys."

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Old 01-08-2009, 12:50 PM   #2
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Default Re: Not 'too old': Steelers' Ward still playing with chip on shoulder

My favorite Steelers used to be all defensive guys until Hines showed up. I hope he keeps playing at the level he is for at least a few more years.
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Old 01-08-2009, 02:04 PM   #3
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Default Re: Not 'too old': Steelers' Ward still playing with chip on shoulder

Yeah, I love the way Hines plays. I think he has another year or two at the most left in him.

Would love to see Quan Cosby from Texas drafted to eventually work the middle like Hines did. He's not tall or exceptionally fast, but gets open and catches just about everything. Classic #2 or #3 WR.
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