February 29th is Leap Day. It doesn’t happen very often. In fact, it only comes around every 4 years. But February 29, 2012 is a Leap Day that we would like to have skipped altogether. It’s a Day that many in Steeler Nation hoped would never come.
But come it did. On February 29, 2012, the Pittsburgh Steelers cut veteran wide receiver Hines Ward.
Ward is one of the most popular Pittsburgh Steelers of all time. He’s been the face of the organization since Jerome Bettis retired after the 2005 season.
Ward holds most of the Steelers’ all-time receiving records. His 1,000 career catches is almost double John Stallworth’s 537 catches. His 12,083 yards is over 3,000 more than Stallworth achieved. And his 65 receiving touchdowns is also the most in team history (once again, Stallworth is in second place).
Not only is Ward the all-time leading receiver in Steelers’ history, but he’s also a two-time Super Bowl Champion, and he played in a third Super Bowl but lost. He was the MVP of one of those Super Bowls. Those credentials ought to get him into the NFL Hall of Fame.
But when I think of Ward, I don’t think of any of those things. In fact, the numbers are a very small part of who he was.
When I think of Hines Ward, the first thing that I think of is that ubiquitous smile. When Ward caught a pass, he always had a smile on his face. When he scored a touchdown, there was that smile. And even when he got smashed into the ground by a safety or a linebacker, he still managed to get up with a big grin on his face. It was almost as though Ward was asking the defender, “Is that the best you can do?”
In an age of prima donna wide receivers, Hines Ward was never a diva. He didn’t whine when he didn’t get the ball. He didn’t cuss out his quarterback. He didn’t showboat when he caught a pass. He didn’t pull out Sharpies or cell phones when he caught a touchdown pass. Instead, he’d look for a fan who was wearing his jersey, and hand them the ball. How classy was that?
The other thing that I’ll always remember about Hines Ward was his devastating blocks. Ward was only 6 feet tall, and just barely weighed over 200 lbs., but defenders knew that he could hit like a Mack truck. They knew that they had to keep their eyes open when they played the Steelers. Just ask Ed Reed. Or Bart Scott. Or Keith Rivers. Heck, the NFL had to change their rules because of Hines Ward. The new rule was even called the Hines Ward rule.
Hines Ward will be 36 years old in about 1 week. So it was inevitable that his time would come. But just like Leap Day, many of us hoped that it wouldn’t come for another 4 years.
Good bye, Hines. Steeler Nation loves you.