Hines Ward: The Story of a Man Fighting Old Man Time

PITTSBURGH PA - JANUARY 15: Wide Receiver Hines Ward #86 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates after defeating the Baltimore Ravens 31-24 in the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Heinz Field on January 15 2011 in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

NYSF4's article the other day, on Steelers wide receiver, Hines Ward got me to thinking about next season and beyond.  For as long as I have been a Steelers fan, Hines Ward has been the backbone to the team.  A fierce competitor that you did not have to worry whether he would show up.  Hines Ward has brought his tenacity each and every day for 13 straight seasons and won the heart of every Steelers fan.  When anyone mentions the Steelers, Ward's huge grin is inevitably one of the first cerebral images that arises in our thoughts.  He is a microcosm of the city of Pittsburgh.  A hard worker that never quits no matter the odds.  He IS Pittsburgh.

Over his long and glorious career, Ward has garnered what many of us consider Hall of Fame numbers.  In his 13 seasons, Ward has climbed the all time NFL record leaders in several key categories.  He ranks T-8th (Randy Moss) for receptions with 954, 21st in yards with 11,702, and 19th in receiving TDs with 83.  With 1 to 2 more decent seasons, he could jump to top 10 in all 3 categories.  However, one of Ward's best attributes cannot be quantified by statistics.  That is, Ward has been the most relentless and savage blocker the NFL has ever seen.  He is one of the few WRs that can square up and hit a LB in the mouth (no pun intended Mr. Keith Rivers).  Then if you top it off with his playoff numbers, 2nd in receptions all time (88) 5th in yards (1,181), and T-3rd (multiple players) in receiving TDs (10), you have a serious HoF candidate.

Unfortunately, Hines Ward cannot play forever.  There is one opponent he cannot defeat and that is Father Time.  Eventually, his time will come and he will have to hang up his cleats.  I am not sure when Hines Ward will retire or what we can expect from him over the next few seasons.  However, we can take a look at what WRs 35+ have done in the league and get a rough estimate of how he will produce.  Join me after the jump.

Since 1966 (the beginning of the Super Bowl Era), there has been 111 WRs that have recorded at least 1 reception that were 35+ or older.  The list is populated by several familiar names like Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens, Joey Galloway, Derrick Mason, etc.  In those 111 seasons, 16 times, or 14.4%, the player had over 1,000 yards.  Irving Fryar tops that list with his 1,316 yard season in 1997 as a 35 year old.  Additionally, 33 times (29.7%) a player had 5 or more TDs.  Only T.O. in 2008 (35) recorded double digit TDs with 10.  Moreover, none of these old guys has ever broke 100 receptions in a season, although Chris Carter came close with 96 during the 2000 season.  Outside of that, 9 times a player recorded 80+ receptions in a season. 

Let's take a look at the averages for these 111 seasons:

Games Games Started Rec. Yards Y/R Y/G TDs
12.8
8.7
37.7
510.0
13.5
39.8
2.9

 

The most surprising numbers in my opinion are the games and games started.  We all know the adage: the older you are the more susceptible to injury you become.  However, out of these 111 seasons of 35+ year old players they are averaging just under 13 games on the active roster out of a 16 game season.  In fact, in about half of those seasons the player was active for all 16 games.  Equally impressive, is that some of these players were playing at such a high level that they are still starting.  About 9 games started out of a 16 game season is nothing to scoff at.

The question is: what can we expect from Hines Ward for the next few seasons?  Lets start by saying, I do not expect him to have a 80 reception season with over 1,000 yards and 7 touchdowns.  The phenom, Jerry Rice, was the only player who will ever do that.  But, Ward is a competitor, and I do not expect him to have a complete flub of a season.  If he can play around those averages for the next two seasons, he can finish out his career with around 1030 receptions, 12,722 yards, and 89 touchdowns.  That would put him in the top 10 for receptions and touchdowns, but leave him about 600-1,000 yards away in the third category.

What I have learned from Hines Ward's career however, is that he is anything but average.  In my honest, but slightly bias opinion, I believe he has one less above average season left in his tank.  He could very well put up 50 receptions, 750 yards, and 5 touchdowns again this season.  I believe this is possible because Ward has never relied on his speed to beat a defender.  He is just a superb route runner that is always in tune with his QB.  When you need a big play, somehow he finds a way to get open.

#86 on the field, forever top 5 in our Steeler hearts.

 

Random old guy WR facts:

  • Jerry Rice is the only WR in the history of the NFL to record a reception over the age of 40.  Did I mention he recorded 92 receptions, 1,211 yards, and 7 touchdowns that year?  Oh yeah, and then he had decent seasons at 41 and 42.
  •  Joey Galloway had the best Y/R in this study with 17.79 yards per catch in 2007 as a 36 year old geezer.
  • For reference, in the first 3 seasons of his career Santonio Holmes had 156 receptions, 2,587 yards, and 15 touchdowns while in his early 20s.  Compare that to Jerry Rice who had 185 receptions, 2,509 yards, and 12 TDs in his early 40s.
  • Only 2 of these guys have recorded 100 yard games in the playoffs.  Rice and Carter both had 120+ games, with Rice's 183 yard game being the best.
  • T.O. and James Lofton are the only two players to record 200 yard games, both of which were 220 or just over.
  • The most receptions in a game is 13 by Tim Brown in 2002.
  • Two WRs and one TE, over 34, had 3 or more TDs in a single game.  Those were Rice, Irving Fryar, and Shannon Sharpe.
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