What do Joe Montana, Joe Namath, O.J. Simpson and Jerry Rice all have in common? They were legendary football players who were almost synonymous with the teams they played with in the prime of their careers, yet, they all retired after playing their "golden" years with other teams.
There's been much talk and speculation in Steeler Nation about whether or not Hines Ward has played his last game with the Steelers, and whether he'll retire as a member of the Black and Gold or finish out his playing days with another team.
According to reports, the Steelers may part ways with Ward even though he's willing to do whatever he can to restructure his contract in-order to help the team fix their cap troubles.
If Hines Ward does have to leave, many fans (including me) would hate to see him play out the twilight of his career with another team.
In today's day and age of free agency and rampant player movement, it's always refreshing to see a legend play for the same team his entire career. It certainly makes for a great story, but at the end of the day, if Hines Ward still wants to play football, I hope he's not judged too harshly by the fans and media for it.
Ward is one of the very few people in the world who is lucky enough to get to do what he's been doing for the past 14 seasons--excel in a sport at its highest level.
Once any professional athlete decides to hang it up, that's pretty much it. If a lawyer decides he or she wants to give up practicing law, they know in the back of their mind they can go back to it any time they want.
It's different for an athlete. Hines will be 36 years old this season, and in our minds as football fans, he's an old geezer, but in terms of the real world, he's still in the prime of his life, and it's hard to walk away from something you've always loved at such a young age.
No matter what Ward does the rest of his life, he probably won't be able to replace the thrill and excitement that he gets from playing football in front of thousands of screaming fans. He won't find it dancing, he probably won't get that same rush acting, and I doubt even a career as a football analyst will be able to fill the void of competing on the football field.
This is where the fans have it over the players. Cheering for the Steelers will give me the same rush when I'm in my 50's and 60's that it gives me now, and that it gave me when I was a kid.
In the grand scheme of things, Ward only has a very small window to live out his dream, and if he feels he still wants to play, even for another team, I don't think it will harm his image in Pittsburgh after he finally does retire.
Does anyone even remember that Joe Montana played his final years with the Kansas City Chiefs? When I was a kid, I was amazed to find out that Joe Namath retired after playing a year or so with the Rams.
Did anyone even know that Jerry Rice played his last official game in 2004 as a member of the Seattle Seahawks? I sure didn't. In my mind, Rice will always be a 49er.
Closer to home, Steelers legends like Franco Harris and Rod Woodson finished their careers with other teams. Heck, Woodson played a significant amount of time after leaving the Steelers and even won a championship as a member of the Ravens. However, I think it's safe to say that when people think of Rod Woodson, they picture him making a huge play while wearing the black and gold.
Would it seem weird for me to see Ward's famous smile under a different colored helmet? No doubt, and heck, I might even catch some ribbing from fans of other teams for it, but I'm sure Hines Ward isn't concerned about my message board cred, he has to do what's best for him.
No matter where he finishes his career, Hines will always be a Steeler to me.