At noon yesterday televisions, laptops, and radios across Steeler Nation were tuned in to the Steelers South Side facilities where Hines Ward was to address the media for the first time since his Feb. 29th release from the Steelers. Once news broke out that there was to be a press conference, it was a fairly easy conclusion as to what the press conference would be. Nothing could have prepared us for what we actually did witness. Hines came to speak to grant us one last request, that he would never put another jersey on. Hines cried, we cried, and at the end of it, we all felt a little more proud to be a part of Steeler Nation.
Hines Ward began the press conference by reading some of his prepared thoughts but got choked up when it came to speaking about the fans. After 14 seasons, Hines Ward has officially achieved Steeler for Life status as he decided to hang up his cleats rather than entertain offers to play for other teams following his release from the Steelers. Though many of Steeler Nation thought that the way the organization treated Ward’s release was disrespectful, Hines spoke kindly and gratefully of the Steelers organization, referring to them as “the best organization in the world.” The outpouring of emotion from Hines yesterday was something none of us will forget anytime soon. If you didn’t at least tear up a little nor got goose bumps while watching Hines’ emotional speech, you have a cold heart.
After being drafted in the 3rd round in 1998 out of the University of Georgia, Hines made his place on the team through special teams and then with his commitment to blocking while on the offense. Hines had played everything from quarterback to tailback in college but ended his career as a Bulldog as a wide out and changed the way the position can be played as a Steeler. Hines holds every notable receiving record with the Steelers franchise including receptions (1,000), receiving yards (12,083), and touchdowns (85). Often labeled as a “dirty player”, Hines laid his body on the line for every play, regardless if he was receiving a pass by becoming known as the hardest hitting blocking wide receiver in the league. No doubt hundreds of players across the league did a little happy dance at the thought of never having to be on the receiving end of a block from Hines Ward ever again.
Hines’ style of play was just one of the reasons why Steeler Nation fell deep in love with him. In 2005 Hines held out most of training camp over a contract dispute, his biggest regret as a Steeler he admitted yesterday. That very season Ward went on to receive Super Bowl XL MVP honors as he helped the Steelers finally get “The One for the Thumb”. Hines joined the cast of Dancing with the Stars last year and won the Mirror Ball Trophy thanks to thousands of fan votes; no doubt a bunch of yinzers calling to vote for him that had never watched the show before and haven’t watched it since he was on. His blue-collar, hardworking approach to the game and his undeniable respect for the fans kept Hines much more than a fan favorite for the majority of his 14 seasons.
“Through it all, I realized that there’s only one thing I love more than the game and that’s Steelers Nation.”
There are those that may criticize his decision to not immediately retire when he was released three weeks ago and question his authenticity when he stated he’d rather retire a Steeler than play for another team for a couple of years. Those people didn’t really watch his speech yesterday, they didn’t really listen, and they don’t really get it. Clearly, Hines still thought he had gas left in the tank and no doubt genuinely wanted to play another season with the Steelers. After being released, who can blame him for wanting to keep it going and keep playing? After 3 weeks of taking stock in the situation, Hines came to the conclusion that it wasn’t worth it to put on another uniform.
“I’ve spent time reading thousands of emails, Facebook posts, tweets, letters, cards and well wishes from fans everywhere,” Mr. Ward said. “As I read them, I was really moved by the tremendous outpouring of love, encouragement and support. It really got to me. Through it all, I realized that there’s only one thing I love more than the game and that’s Steelers Nation.”
Hines Ward gets it. He gets us. He knows it’s more than a game for us too. If you grew up in Pittsburgh or just grew up a Steelers fan because your parents grew up in Pittsburgh, you know what it means to hear the words Hines Ward spoke yesterday afternoon. Although we love our Steelers players, Hines will always hold a special place in all of our hearts because he embodies the passion and genuine loyalty we all grew up feeling for this franchise.
“Today,” he said, “I’m officially retiring a Pittsburgh Steeler. And as much as I will miss football, my teammates, coaches and everything about the game, I don’t want to play it in any other uniform. The black and gold runs deep in me, and I will remain a Steeler for life.”
You absolutely are a Steeler for life, Hines. Thank you for 14 years of laying out Ed Reed, touchdown dances, and your incredible smile. Now go take Rodney Harrison’s job so we can still see you every Sunday.
- Video via SteelersVideos.com