As football fans all know, the number 86 gold and black jersey for the Pittsburgh Steelers has been occupied for the past 14 years. This now iconic jersey was worn by the greatest receiver in Steelers history, Hines Ward.
Hines was introduced to the NFL in 1998 as a versatile player from Georgia. He played halfback, and quarterback at Georgia until he found his true calling at receiver. In the third round of the 1998 draft Hines Ward was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers. The late ‘90s Steeler franchise, like many others, looked to build their team in youth around veteran superstars like Jerome Bettis.
In Ward’s first season with the Steelers, he was placed on special teams as not much of a contributor. He finally got his place as a receiver after his rookie year. Soon the Steelers were to realize they had a playmaker on their hands! Now known as the greatest blocking receiver of all time, Ward defiantly proved to be that desirable young playmaker that offenses drool over. Not only did he live up to expectations and far beyond, but he would soon be a part of two Steelers’ Super Bowl wins, a Super Bowl MVP, a four-time Pro Bowl receiver, and the Steeler’s most productive wide receiver.
What really makes Hines Ward stand out though is the fact that he shows true passion for the game! He has grit, toughness and raw determination on every down of football he played. Players like Ward are rare gems in football. He is not a pretty boy playing the game for money, but he is a man that has a true love for the game of football.
At 12 o’ clock on Tuesday, Ward announced his retirement. It was an emotional moment for the player as he promised not to cry at the beginning of his speech. A few minutes and a handful of tears went by.
Hines Ward retired after 14 years in the NFL in the most genuine way possible! He didn’t want to stay in the NFL for money. The only way he would stick around is if he could be a Steeler once more. That was not possible since the team released him earlier this month.
“I have accomplished all I have set out for and more,” he said. “I don’t want to play in any other uniform. Black and gold runs deep in me, and I will remain a Steeler for life.”
Why aren’t there more players in the NFL that are like that? It is simple: Money, Fame and Reputation. This just demonstrates Ward’s spirit and loyalty to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the game of football.
Ward had a great career to look back on, with numbers that put him in an elite classification. He retired with all-time franchise marks in receptions (1,000), receiving yards (12,083), receiving touchdowns (85) and 100-yard receiving games (29).
He’s one of only two players in NFL history to have at least 1,000 career catches and win multiple Super Bowls, along with Jerry Rice. If that doesn’t convince you that he deserves a trip to Canton, then I don’t know what will.
Many interviews were taken on this subject after Ward announced his retirement. Steelers President Art Rooney said, “Hines has been an integral part of our success since we drafted him in 1998 and we will forever be grateful for what he has helped us achieve. He has meant so much to this organization, both on and off the field, and we appreciate his efforts over the past 14 years. Hines’ accomplishments are numerous, and he will always be thought of as one of the all-time great Steelers.”
As many fans will miss Hines’ big smile and great talent on the field, he will be remembered as one of the greatest Steelers to ever play the game. He deserves to be compared with players like Jerry Rice, Michael Irvin and other Hall of Fame receivers. Although Ward didn’t get all the recognition and respect he deserved, he definitely made an impact on the game of football and has many fans and teammates that respect him, follow him and support him.
When you talk about the top receivers in NFL history, Hines Ward’s name should be included on a short list.
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By Blake Novacek
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