Growing up in Ohio, you would naturally think my pro football team loyalties would gravitate to either the Browns or the Bengals, and after writing those two teams down while vomiting in my mouth, let me tell you that they don't. No, my life-long loyalty has been to the Pittsburgh Steelers and even though fantasy football muddies up all loyalty, the Black & Gold are still my team, no matter what. And my favorite Steelers player of all time is hands down, Hines Ward.
Ward, at his height (which isn't a pun directed at his short in football standards 6 feet), was the most fierce receiver to ever play the game. This cat would put the fear of the Almighty into defenders with his viscous, questionably legal hits that would knock people out of games. He would secure the edge like no other, allowing backs to break away for large chunks of ground at a time. Heck, whenever Jerome Bettis breaks into the HoF, he should send Ward flowers for the extra yards he got him with his fierce blocking.
Oh, and Ward could catch balls as well.
Ward has exactly 1000 receptions for over 12,000 yards and 85 touchdowns in his career. He is a 4 time pro bowl recipient, a SuperBowl MVP, and is the Steelers career leader for receptions, receiving yards, and receiving Tds.
All that being said, and however much this pains me to say, it's time for the Steelers and Ward to part ways.
Hines Ward will always be revered in Steelers lore and he will be in the Hall of Fame when it's all said and done (that's a discussion for another time) but for the here and now, his time with the Steelers should be at an end.
Look, the reality of the situation is that Ward doesn't have much left in the tank to contribute to the offense. Never much of a burner to begin with, what speed Ward had is gone and with it went his ability to be a starter for this team. With Mike Wallace, Emanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh has a trio of receivers that are far superior to Ward as he is now.
With those three receivers now ahead of them, that would relegate a potential returned Ward to fourth on the wideout depth chart and a fourth receiver is expected to play special teams, something Ward is not equipped to do anymore.
No, even with a heavily restructured contract, a Ward return next season just wouldn't make sense for either side. Now is the time to be looking forward for both parties involved, and that direction shouldn't involve my favorite player as a member of the roster. Personally, a perfect scenario for me would be for Ward to retire and them be hired on as a wide receivers coach. Hines has a lot to offer young players through teaching and that would be where he would be best right now.
The hardest part about being an athlete, more so one of the caliber Ward is/was, is deciding when it's the time to hang it up. Many stay to long and their memory is somewhat tarnished with a few sad final years.
I'm hoping that Ward's isn't like that. I'm hoping that reality sets in for him, because it's time to hang them up now, number 86, and move on to the next phase of your life.
Photo Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS