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|02-06-2011, 03:25 PM||#1|
A Son of Martha
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Hines Ward: The Grin Reaper
Hines Ward: The Grin Reaper
Steelers receiver excels in all areas and plays with a child's enthusiasm
By Allen Wilson
News Sports Reporter
Published:February 6, 2011, 1:31 AM
Updated: February 6, 2011, 1:45 AM
The first thing you notice is that smile.
It has been Hines Ward's trademark since joining the Pittsburgh Steelers as a third-round draft pick out of Georgia in 1998, and it serves as a reminder that a grown man's game should be played with child-like enthusiasm.
"I'm having fun," the veteran wide receiver said this week. "I just love playing football. That's why I'm always smiling. I love doing what I'm doing."
And he has done it well for 13 NFL seasons.
The Steelers have two Hall of Fame receivers in Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, who were key contributors to four Super Bowl victories in the 1970s. Will Ward join them in Canton, Ohio?
"Why not?" said Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson, who will match up against Ward tonight in Super Bowl XLV. "You've got a guy that just plays football the way it's supposed to be played and played it for as long as he's played it. A championship guy two times, Super Bowl MVP. You've got to tell me what the criteria is if he's not."
If it's numbers you want, Ward has them. He owns virtually every meaningful franchise receiving record, and most by a wide margin. His 11,702 yards are 6,240 more than Swann's and 2,979 more than Stallworth's. Ward has 954 receptions, more than Swann (336) and Stallworth (537) had combined. Ward has 83 receiving touchdowns, 20 more than Stallworth, and his six 1,000-yard seasons are the most in team history.
Unlike Swann and Stallworth, Ward has played in an era when passing was more emphasized. But there is more to his game than catching passes. He is unmatched as a blocker, a role in which he takes particular pride.
Ward may not be as fast or physically gifted as some of his contemporaries, but he'll go down as perhaps the most complete receiver of his era.
"Hines moves chains," said newly elected Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders, who works as an analyst on NFL Network. CHECK THIS "When you move chains, you win games. Do not underestimate what he brings to the table. He knows the game and he blocks his butt off. You know what you're going to get with Hines."
"I don't try to be like any other receiver," said Ward, who has 81 postseason catches and needs three tonight to pass Reggie Wayne for fourth place and four to tie Andre Reed for third on the all-time list. "When I'm long gone away from this game and they mention Hines Ward, I just want them to say that 'He's a hell of a football player.'
"I don't get caught up in who catches the ball. If my opportunity is there, I want to come up big for my teammates. But just as much as I want to do that, I want to spring [running back Rashard] Mendenhall open so he can score a touchdown. I'm fine with that. I just want to be known as a great football player."
What distinguishes Ward from most receivers is his physical playing style. He is famous for delivering jolting blocks on unsuspecting defenders who are not too pleased with his aggressive tactics. He broke the jaw of Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers with a blind-side hit a couple of years ago.
Some people call Ward's style dirty. He calls it playing to the whistle.
"I'm not out there to try and hurt anybody," he said. "Everybody is like, 'Well, he hits guys when they're not looking.' Should I tap on your shoulder and say, 'Here I come?' At the end of the day, I just play football the way it's supposed to be played. That's how I was taught as a little child and I continue to play it here in the NFL."
Ward saw a shift in his role this season. He finished with 59 catches and 755 yards, down from the 95 catches and 1,167 yards he had a year ago. Second-year pro Mike Wallace emerged as the Steelers' primary threat (60 catches for 1,257 yards) and rookies Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders have shined this postseason. Tight end Heath Miller contributed 42 catches for 512 yards.
The Steelers' passing game may be more balanced, but Ward is still quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's most trusted target.
"He's a comfort blanket," Roethlisberger said. "When things sometimes go wrong, you just got to find Hines and he's going to make plays for you. He's made me look good so many times. I've been blessed to play with Hines for seven years now. He's one of the best to play the game."
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin agrees.
"We're talking about a guy with Hall of Fame credentials," Tomlin said. "But what he means to us also goes beyond the things that you can measure, things that you don't see on a day to day basis. His spirit, his commitment to community, his commitment to the raising of some of these young players, he's just a special person and a special Steeler."
Wallace appreciates Ward's willingness to mentor the younger receivers.
"He's our big brother," Wallace said. "Hines is always telling us, not just on the field but off the field, how to carry yourself and be accountable. That's great to have a guy like that and to have him in my room. I couldn't ask for anything more."
Ward turns 35 in March. He knows his career is coming to an end. But unlike Jerome Bettis, who retired the night of the Steelers' Super Bowl XL victory, Ward isn't planning a similar announcement if his team wins tonight.
"I'm not retiring. I'm not in the mood to retire," he said. "Until Coach Tomlin says he does not need my services anymore, I'm going to continue playing."
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