At a 12:00 ET press conference today Hines Ward said he was giving Steeler Nation the one last gift it wanted, and he announced that he would retire as a Steeler.
Ward has been one of the most visible and well-loved faces of the Steelers for over a decade. At least, he is well-loved among Steeler fans. Keith Rivers, the LB pursuing Hines in the photo, probably doesn't love Hines all that much. Nor do a lot of fans of other teams. But the picture says it all. Hines loved to play. He loved to play whether he was blocking for a running back or taking a big hit over the middle or leaping into the end zone.
But Ward brought more than a love for the game. His career statistics, combined with the ways he has changed the game of football, will make him almost a certainty for Hall of Fame consideration. He is the receiver with the 8th highest number of catches, (1000), the 13th most TD catches (85), and the 18th most receiving yards (12,083). He accumulated these numbers while on a team who, during at least the first half of his career, was a run-first team. He has 2 Super Bowl rings, was named the MVP of Super Bowl XL, and was named to the Pro Bowl four times.
And he doesn't have just receiving stats. During his career he recorded 22 tackles, 428 rushing yards on 57 attempts for a 7.5 Yd/Attempt average, and has a 50% completion rate as a passer, which isn't much worse than some QBs we won't name at the moment.
Ward's longevity in the league was legendary. According to the NFL Players Association, the average career of an NFL wide receiver is 2.81. Hines Ward's career was five times the average, or 14 seasons. During those 14 seasons he missed a total of 7 regular-season games, or about 3%. For a man who didn't shy away from contact, that is an astonishing statistic.
But Father Time has a way of catching up with everyone eventually, and Hines was no exception. It is a great pity he couldn't have announced his retirement at the Super Bowl in which the Steelers garnered their seventh trophy, but make no mistake, Hines Ward went out a champion.