This was already posted under "A Letter to Hines Ward" and was suggested that I move it to a FanPost. I edited it and expanded on the story as best I could from memory as well as from conversations with my dad and brother. I hope you all enjoy it!
My personal Hines Story:
I also grew up in the DC area (Arlington) surrounded by the hapless redskins and never really felt that connection to my hometown team. My dad is from Pittsburgh and of course is a huge steeler fan, which is why I latched on to them as a kid. The first football game I ever saw was the AFC championship game against the Colts to send us to Super Bowl XXX. This happened when I was about 8-9 years old and I vividly remember yelling at the TV screen with my Dad and brother, not entirely sure of what was going on. The sheer elation of that game was of course mirrored by the utter despair of the actual Super Bowl itself (to this day, Neil f$%king O'Donnel's name is not to be mentioned our household). Despite the painful loss in a game in which we were ever so close to defeating the hated Cowboys sealed the deal and made me a Steeler for life.
A few years later when I was about 12 years old, my dad took me and my brother to training camp in LaTrobe to be able to see the team up close since there was no way we could afford a trip to the ‘burgh much less tickets to old three rivers. I remember waiting in line to get Jerome Bettis’s autograph in the sweltering sun surrounded by hordes of other fans and of course the professional autograph seekers (The Bus had a huge smile on his face the entire time). Just as he was about to leave the ropeline and head in, I desperately held my football above my head and felt it get plucked right out of my hands, only to be returned seconds later with the ink of his autograph shining brightly against the midday sun.
I was so happy after that, I decided to run back to the car to put the football away; there was no way I was going to be able to top "The Bus". On my way there, I literally almost ran into an impossibly huge individual. I figured a man that friggin big just HAD to be a steeler so I asked if he would sign my football as well. The behemoth was very gracious and after signing my ball, gave me a handshake in which he quite literally engulfed my whole hand in his. I couldn't recognize the signature at first, but later, I looked at the roster card to see who #63 was. Never even occured to me that I had just run into one of the greatest centers of all time.
At the end of the first day, I decided against putting away my football and tried my luck one more time. I was waiting out near the players lot hoping like hell to get Kordell Stewart’s autograph. He came out and of course didn’t sign any autographs, but a young skinny player came up to the rope line and offered to sign my ball. I had no idea who he was and I was reluctant to give space on my new football which had already been graced by Bettis and Dawson to some rookie I couldnt even identify, but I wasn’t going to say no to a steeler who wanted to give me his autograph. After he signed it, I said "who are you by the way?" (keep in mind, I was 12), he said "Hines Ward, I’m number 15". I said back "well I’ll be lookin for you, I hope you’re good". He flashed his classic grin and said "ya, me too". I didn’t know at the time, I’d be exchanging words with the greatest Steeler receiver of all time, and one of my all time personal favorite athletes.
Hines, if this was indeed your final season (and I hope like hell it wasn’t), thanks for the memories, they will be cherished by the millions of fans who comprise the greatest fanbase in all of sports; Steeler Nation!
P.S: I still have the football and if I was any more adept at using SBnation, I would post a picture of it to share with you all. It is mounted proudly at the center of my man cave, with #63, #36 and #15's signatures