Wide receiver Hines Ward is one of the very few receivers in the history of the NFL to be more respected for his blocking ability and hard hitting nature than his ability to make plays through the air. Ward is no slouch at receiving to be sure, with 995 career catches for 12,016 yards and 85 touchdowns, be he is on of the few truly physical receivers we have seen in the modern NFL. Ward seems just as happy as throwing a bone crushing block as he does hauling in a 20 yard pass and in an era when the physical nature of professional football is trying to be wrangled in by the NFL Ward offers a refreshing glimpse at how the game used to be played.
Hines Ward was recognized as an exceptional athletic talent early on in high school and he used this athleticism to great advantage while playing quarterback for Forrest Park High school located in Clayton county, Georgia. After graduating high school Hines Ward committed to play football for the University of Georgia. Hines Ward’s four years at the University of Georgia rank established him as one of the most successful athletes in school history. It is with the Georgia Bulldogs that Ward first saw significant time at wide receiver and by the time his senior year was over he would rank as the second most productive wide receiver in school history. While at UGA Hines Ward also played a significant role at tailback, where he gained almost 3,900 hundred all purpose yards from 1994 to 1997. On occasion Ward also filled in as quarterback for the Bulldogs when needed, throwing for 413 yards in the Peach Bowl during his sophomore year.
Although many around the NFL believed that Ward had the potential to be a play maker his draft stock was hurt after it was revealed that a childhood accident left him without an CL in his left knee. While Ward’s drop in stock cost him a significant amount of money in the initial years of his career the drop also allowed him to fall to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the third round of the 1998 NFL draft. The Pittsburgh Steelers had a reputation for hard nosed blue collar football and the always physical Hines Ward would prove to be the perfect fit for the team. In his first three years in the league Hines Ward showcased the soft hands and physical blocking that would make him a living legend amongst NFL players later on in his career. From 1998 to 2000 Hines Ward played a significant role in the Pittsburgh offense but he had yet to become the go to receiver that would give defensive backs fits; that particular evolution would come in 2001 when Ward caught a career high 94 passes for 1,003 yards and 4 touchdowns.
From 2001 to 2004 Hines Ward produced four consecutive 1,000 yard seasons while also being voted to the Pro Bowl in each of those four years. Would would reach 1,000 yards in a season just two more times in his career, giving him a total of 6 years with at least 1,000 yards receiving. In 2005 Hines Ward missed the first game of his career but he made up for it by being named the MVP of Super Bowl XL after he helped the Steelers defeat the Seahawks in the NFL’s biggest game. Ward would help lead the Steelers to another Super Bowl victory in 2008, and a third appearance in 2011 which resulted in a loss to the Green Bay packers.
Despite being one of the most physical players in the game Hines Ward has missed surprisingly few games due to injury; just 6 over his 14 year career. One Hines Ward officially retires from the NFL he will more than likely be considered to be a first ballot Hall of Fame inductee. There are those that argue that Ward was never really a deep threat and his yard per catch average was never as good as the elite receivers and they would be correct in both aspects. Hines Ward was athletic and gutsy but he was never a burner, he isn’t the guy that caught the deep ball, Ward was the type of guy that was sent over the middle to make a critical third down conversion while being leveled by a free safety. Hines Ward wasn’t named the Steelers MVP three times because of his speed and he wont be admitted to the Hall of Fame because of his speed, he will be admitted because he was one of the most consistently productive player’s t the position of wide receiver and is perhaps the most well rounded receive the NFL has ever seen.