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Hines Ward Reflections: A Steeler for the Steeler Nation

March 20, 2012 will go down in the hearts of all Steeler Nation as a momentous, sad, but also joyous time as we celebrated and reflected on the career of Hines Ward, a Steeler for the Steeler Nation.

A clearly tearful and emotional Hines Ward, dressed in a black suit with a black, gold, and white striped tie took the podium in front of local and national media on Monday in Pittsburgh to announce his retirement from the NFL.  The patented Hines Ward smile was evident early but quickly turned to an emotion filled speech from the heart as he said his goodbye’s to the NFL world he’s known for the last 14 years.

Current players Aaron Smith, James Harrison, Brett Keisel, and long time friend Jerome Bettis were in attendance to support Ward. Also there with him; Ambassador Dan Rooney, Art Rooney II, Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin and others. Harrison, aka Deebo even had a bet going that Ward about how long it would take for him to cry;  in a tweet James mentioned how he won the money at the 2 minute, 26 second mark into his speech.  I don’t think there was ever any doubt that tears would flow in abundance when the reality of the circumstances finally hit Ward.

Some highlights from the press conference, which you can hear in it’s entirety via the player below.

I am truly blessed, I have accomplished all that I set out to and more, I have nothing left to prove. It’s my love for the game that wants me to continue playing. I am a competitor and would love nothing more than to get back to another super bowl. But that’s the passion in me.

These past few weeks I spent a lot time reading thousands of emails, Facebook posts, tweets, and letters from the fans. I was moved by the outpouring of support.

Through it all there’s only one thing I love more than football and that’s Steeler Nation.

For all the fans for years who camped out in the parking lot on game days. To all the fans who traveled to cheer us on. The ones wearing my jersey’s in Denver, New York, and even Baltimore and all the teams I’ve played against. It’s truly amazing. Without the support over the past 14 years, this game wouldn’t mean the same to me. Wouldn’t be as fun for me.

The city and this organization mean the world to me. So today, as sadly as it feels for me right now. Today I came back to Pittsburgh to grant Steeler Nation it’s one last request. Today, I’m officially retiring as a Pittsburgh Steeler.”

As much as I will miss football, my teammates, and coaches, I don’t want to play in any other uniform. The black n gold runs deep in me. To my fans and Steeler nation, no words can express how much you mean to me. Today is what you mean to me. Thanks for all the love and support through it all. You guys have given me the best years of my life and I will never forget that, ever. I want to thank all you guys from the bottom of my heart.

All in all, I can say that I am a Steeler for life. That’s all I ever wanted.

Acknowledging that Hines was a great player is like saying the grass is green, everybody knows it.  Even those who despise the Steelers have respect for Ward and what he’s done in the game.  That gigantic smile, bone crushing blocks, and clutch catches after getting blasted while going across the middle are trademarks that you expect from #86 and he never failed to deliver. Even in his last season with the Steelers, with limited playing time, he gave it his all every chance he had. Deep down inside I’m sure it bothered him to not be on the field, any competitor would feel the same way but he never gave up, never bad mouthed the organization or his coaches.

When you talk about Hines Ward, you are talking about perhaps the greatest wide receiver in Steelers’ history and certainly the best blocking wide receiver in NFL history.  – quote from hinesward.com

Ward was drafted in 1998 in the 3rd round out of Georgia by the Steelers and then Head Coach Bill Cowher. It was thought that he could have been a 2nd round pick, possibly even a late first rounder but the fact that he has no ACL in his left knee scared off NFL teams from taking him sooner. Ward left college with 149 career catches for 1,965 yds. He was the “slash” version for the Bulldogs as he also played tailback and amassed a total of 3,870 all purpose yds. He played mainly on special teams his first year with the Steelers but once he got onto the field regularly in 1999 there was no stopping him.

Ward will end his Steeler career as as a 4 time pro bowler, and 3 time team MVP. His accomplishments also include having 1,000 career receptions for 12,083 yds and 85 touchdowns (you can see a full list on the chart below). Ward also had 29, 100 yd receiving games, which if you do the simple math is just 2,900 yds via what is generally considered a “good game” for NFL receivers. That means the bulk of his yardage was earned the hard way with short to intermediate catches in traffic making clutch plays when you absolutely have to have them.  Hines going across the middle and finding the soft spot in the zone was as much a regular occurrence as seeing him get clocked into next week after going up for a high pass while being in the cross hairs of a waiting Safety. Anybody who considered that fun had to be a special type of player.

Who can forget some of the great Hines Ward memories; like the Super Bowl XL catch from Antwaan Randle El, or the Chad Johnson/Ochocinco dance in the end zone.  The epic block on Keith Rivers of the Bengals back in 2008 that broke the linebackers jaw, or the Ravens Ed Reed getting completely blown up by an oncoming Ward who had Reed right in his crosshairs. There are so many memories and each of us has their own great moments in Ward history that we’ll cherish forever.

His leadership on and off the field, his locker room presence, his patented smile, unquestioned toughness and leadership will live on forever.

It’s been a  tough off season for the Steelers in 2012 because of the iconic players that will no longer wear the black ‘n gold on Sunday afternoons. While that may be true from an active NFL player standpoint, Aaron Smith, James Farrior, and Hines Ward will always be Steelers at heart.

We can all feel truly blessed and honored as fans of the Steelers to have watched Ward’s career in Pittsburgh.

Full Hines Ward Retirement Press Conference Audio

Ward Retirement Press Conference Audio courtesy of Steelers.com

Link to full video of press conference.

Current and former Steelers teammates of Ward share their thoughts on Twitter:

@LaMarrWoodley: Congrats 2 hines on a hall of fame career… hoping 2 be just like him when all is said n done!! steeler 4 life
 
@Ike_SwagginU: So glad HINES WARD future HOF retired as a STEELER AKA STILLER
 
@RMundy29: #Thankful that I was able to call @mvp86hinesward a teammate for 4 seasons. Epitomized what it means to be a Pro on and off the field.
 
@CharlieBatch16: It has been an honor to play with Hines Ward for 10yrs, watching him accomplish all the things he has on/off the… http://fb.me/1a1BRDEtm
 
@mlogan31: Congrats Hines…a great teammate who changed the way the games was played. An honor to have played with you bro!… http://fb.me/1AsZbWVLc
 
@Wallace17_daKid: Hines Ward was a great teammate, friend, and mentor had a great three years with him he def made me a better player
 
@MarcusGilbert88: Glad to see that Hines is retiring a Pittsburgh Steeler! Well respected and a Future Hall of Famer! Hats on to one of the best!
 
@mewolfley (daughter of former Steeler Craig Wolfley): Hines was my 1st interview back when I was interning at FSN… Thanks for the memories! Glad 86 retired as a #steeler
 

Career stats for Hines in his 14 NFL seasons.

ReceivingKickoff & Punt Returns 

Scoring Summary

Super Bowl Stats Overall 

Super Bowl Stats Rushing

Super Bowl Stats Receiving 

Some all time fan favorite videos of  Ward, click here.

It would be impossible to include every great image in Hines’ illustrious career but here are just a handful of some of my favorites. (all pictures property of original owners).

This one, courtesy of Steelers.com says it all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last but not least, the Steeler Nation salutes a hero for the ages on his retirement. His play will be missed in seasons to come but his legacy is etched in all who’ve had the privilege of watching him live out his dreams, and ours.  Thanks for going out a Steeler, Hines!

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