Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward announced his retirement on Tuesday in a very emotional press conference after 14 great seasons. It was a day that we all knew was coming, but it did not make it any less surreal. During the presser my mind raced back through memories of the hundreds of great plays that he made the eternal smile and the great blocks. Oh those great, de-cleating blocks.
I could wax poetically about the 1,000 career catches, the 12,083 career yards receiving, the 85 career touchdowns and the 620 career first downs, but instead I will focus on the other great thing that Ward was known for, and that was his physical style of play.
Ward has been deemed a cheap shot artist over the years and even on the day of his retirement by Cincinnati Bengals safety Chris Crocker. Crocker said Tuesday about Ward, “He tried to end people\’s careers and that\’s not the way the game is supposed to be played.” He also added, “He\’s probably the first receiver to make blocking such a big part of his game. He was an all-around receiver. He was a dirty player, but he made a lot of plays. They used him perfectly to suit his abilities and he was a big-time player for them. Some people might think of him as a borderline Hall-of-Famer, but I think the fact he helped them win two Super Bowls and all the things he did for that team make him deserving.”
Did Ward deliver a few cheap shots during his 14 years? Certainly. Did he receive his share of cheap shots as well? Absolutely. Was Crocker just a tad bitter on Tuesday? Was it a bit of a back-handed compliment he delivered to Ward? His own verbal cheap shot? I will let you decide, but the key words in his quotes in my opinion were, “all the things he did”. Ward certainly did it all and blocking was certainly a key element of the all. It is what has set him apart from several other receivers all of these years.
Blocks are not official NFL stats, but I assure you that the Steelers have them logged somewhere deep inside the Southside facility. I bet they could carve out a two hour tape of nothing but key blocks from the 14 years of game film that they have. We all remember the crushing hit on Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers as well as the hit on Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed that sent him flying backwards through the air. There were tons more though that were both violent and unviolent that achieved their desired result. He could block and was not afraid to do it. It would be interesting to know just how many yards he was responsible for over the years because of his blocking.
One of my favorite quotes by Ward that I remember came from an interview on one of the several NFL films type shows. During that interview Ward said, “I like to be the most complete player that I can be. You know blocking is, want to. Either you want to block or you don\’t want to block. I know when I go across the middle, nobody\’s going to let up on me or tackle me soft. I never heard of a soft tackle before. They\’re going to try to knock my head off and that\’s just the approach I take to the game. I\’m going to go out there, and if I get an opportunity to hit you and block you, then I\’m going to do it.” He certainly did do it and he did it hundreds of times.
Because of the hit on Rivers, the league instituted a new rule that will be three years old later this month. That rule, which was labeled the Hines Ward rule, made it illegal to blindside block if it comes from the blocker\’s helmet, forearm or shoulder and lands to the head or neck area of the defender. Keep in mind that when Ward broke the jaw of Rivers, it was deemed a legal action. You can\’t fault him for playing within the rules at the time. In response to the new rule Ward was quoted as saying before he played the Bengals the following season, “I\’ll still hit him. I\’ll just get fined. There\’s nothing I can do about it. It\’s either that or try to hurt somebody. So are you going to fine me, or do you want me to end someone\’s career? I\’d rather take a fine than try to end somebody\’s career, so I\’m not going to change.” Ward has been true to his statement since he made it as his style of play didn\’t change during his final three seasons.
Ward will be eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in five years and we can only imagine what the process will be like by then. It is also unknown if Pittsburgh Post Gazette beat writer Ed Bouchette will still be on the selection committee when that time rolls around, but I hope he is. I believe he does a great job presenting Steelers players as candidates, based on his track record, and he of course covered Ward for many years. If he himself has not yet retired, Bouchette will be asked by other committee members to explain why Ward deserves to get into the Hall of Fame outside of his stats and his longevity. I would suggest that Bouchette just show the two film hour that I suggested earlier in this post that shows all of his key blocks over the course of his 14 seasons. Stats may certainly lie, but the tape doesn\’t. Ward left his mark on the game in many different ways and he also left several marks on defensive players as well. Just ask Rivers, Reed and Crocker.
I believe there will never be a more complete wide receiver in the NFL like Ward. If there is, I doubt he will be able to be complete for 14 seasons and I doubt he will leave as many marks as Ward did. Thank you Hines Ward for all of the great memories. I will never forget you.