A short time ago, I wrote that the Pittsburgh Steelers should release Hines Ward and as reported yesterday, the team is going to be doing so. Writing those words were some of the hardest I have ever done because of my utmost respect and man-love for the one player who I knew without a doubt gave everything he had on every play.
Not the most gifted athlete by any means, Hines Ward overcame any physical deficiency with an unbending will and an unflinching work ethic. He persevered through every obstacle in a straight path to what I believe to eventually be the Hall of Fame. Not the tallest receiver, nor the fastest, Ward scoffed at every negative and used them to fuel a fire within him that burned hotter than the sun.
If there was one player on this current squad over the last decade that epitomized everything the Pittsburgh Steelers stood for, then that player was Hines Ward. Ward was all about delivering punishment and clutch catches whenever either was neither. Both earned him the respect, and sometimes the hatred, of the opposing team.
Ward, like I said above, would never take a play off. On running plays, he could be seen blocking ferociously or delivering punishing hits to free his backs till sometimes after the whistle. He was so unmindful of his own body that I can't even count the times I seen him launch himself an a defensive player head first just to try to get a runner a couple of more yards.
The thing is, however, as amazing as those hits were, and trust me, they made me cringe sometimes, the guy would just pop back up with a huge grin on his face. That grin, reminiscent of a grade school boy sneaking a candy bar and getting away with it, was a physical representation for the joy he felt in playing this game and defying the odds.
It also shirley pissed off a few players as well!
The reality of the game is that Pittsburgh had to let Ward go, and the reality of Ward is that he will sign with another team because he's not ready to hang them up yet. The why's behind both can be talked about for pages and though the facts are what they are, it doesn't make it any easier knowing my favorite player isn't going to be on my team anymore.
So, thank you Mr. Ward, for all the joy you brought to Steelers fans everywhere. You will be missed but never forgotten.
Photo Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS