By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
When it comes to speed, many NFL players are faster than the Steelers' Hines Ward, above. But on game days it's a different matter because he's running scared.
When he made it to the Pro Bowl last season, Atlanta cornerback DeAngelo Hall won a competition for the "NFL's Fastest Man." Not surprising.
When he was at Virginia Tech, Hall was timed on an indoor track at 4.15 seconds in the 40-yard dash, a record at a school whose football roster once included Michael Vick.
"That means I must run a 4.13," said Hines Ward, laughing.
It was Hall who was chasing Ward all over the field Sunday at the Georgia Dome when Ward had eight catches and set career highs with 171 yards and three touchdowns.
But, more significantly, it was Hall who was losing ground to Ward on a 70-yard touchdown catch in which the four-time Pro Bowl receiver outran Hall and cornerback Jason Webster to the end zone.
And he did it with only one shoe.
"The whole speed thing, to me, is overrated," Ward said. "I'm the only receiver since I've been here to take a skinny route all the way and I've done it twice. I did it last year against New England and I did it this year against supposedly the fastest man in the league. I like to call it running
scared. When you're running scared, it's not based on 40 time."
The reference was to his 85-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown in the 23-20 loss last year to the Patriots, the longest reception in Heinz Field history.
But this was more impressive because Ward, after catching the ball near the Atlanta 40, came out of his right shoe and still outran his pursuers before diving to the pylon.
"I may not be the fastest guy, but I'm fast enough if I catch a skinny and somebody is chasing me, I'm still going to try to do whatever it takes to score," Ward said. "To do it with one shoe, I'm not that slow."
Ward's performance in the Georgia Dome was personal satisfaction because he grew up and lives in Forest Park, Ga., approximately three miles from Atlanta, and went to the University of Georgia. Ward had to get 52 tickets to the game for family and friends.
But it ended in extreme disappointment when the Steelers blew leads of 17-7, 24-21 and 31-28 before losing to the Falcons in overtime, 41-38.
"This was a special game," Ward said. "I circled it. I prepared myself. I wanted to make sure, of any game this year, that this game was very big for me, having so many tickets [to get], having so many family and friends. To go back home after winning the Super Bowl, me growing up a Falcons fan, the Falcons were the team that passed me by [in the draft] ... there was a little animosity toward the organization then.
"But it's disappointing we lost the game. That's really what counted. I really wanted to beat the Falcons. I had a great performance, but it means nothing if you don't win the game. That's the bottom line in this business. It kind of took away from the emotional part of it."