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"After everything he's done for the Steelers..."
"I can't imagine him in another uniform, wearing those ugly colors..."
"Gosh dangit! Now I have to buy another jersey!"
"Don't pull a Franco, man!"
"Well, if they'd have just given him more opportunities..."
It's been said as many different ways as listed above, and then a whole lot more! Nobody wants to see Ward's smiling mug leave this outfit. No way, no how!
Yet, life doesn't put itself on hold for the emotions of fans or a franchise or a player that are all so endeared together.
Obviously, Steelers Country (and, really, fans in general) is comprised of two types of people: those who admire the moxie and mounds of wonderful qualities of Hines Ward... and those who don't have a clue.
With a potential Hall of Fame resume and a physicality rarely seen at the receiver position, ranging from his blocking ability to occasional quarterbacking, Hines was the embodiment of a "Steelers guy."
Nevertheless, the time comes when a players' performance isn't correlating with the team's ultimate goals of a championship, or more succinctly, isn't adequate.
For those who chastise the Steelers, assuming hypothetically that Ward does not return, let's take a moment to consider the things the franchise DID do for their loyal employee.
They placed him in a system where his strengths flourished, complete with blocking assignments, gadgets to demonstrate his other strengths, and gave him top billing as receiver in a league being quickly dominated by flashy fantasy stats.
Ward, largely a special teams player when he arrived in Pittsburgh, earned his way onto the starting roster, putting up amazing numbers for multiple seasons.
However, despite the offense's transition into a more aerial-based strategy, Ward's statistics have not inflated along with team passing numbers. In fact, the opposite has occurred: they've deflated.
Many will point to Ward's lack of opportunities in 2012, but it's important to remind one's self of who started alongside Mike Wallace early in the season: Ward. Simply, he didn't produce.
As Antonio Brown began to develop chemistry with Big Ben in Arizona (which is exactly when the duo began to build their current rhythm), the declining "chances" and "numbers" for Ward begin to show themselves.
It was a matter of starting the superior talent in the present. And, isn't that critical to the success of any team?
At the end of the season, the Steelers did Hines another favor, placing a focus on giving No. 86 the critical receptions needed to reach the 1,000 reception plateau before the eyes of the fans that adore him. Unlike so many other footballs he gave to those fans wearing his jersey, this one was a keeper!
Unfortunately, Ward isn't... not anymore. Not unless the circumstances dictate keeping him.
In the present, the Steelers have a much larger focus on far more talented long-term prospects, namely Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown.
Should Wallace leave town, there is the off chance that Ward would return, but either way, the biggest matter is winning. And, the principles of making the decisions that go into the winning DO NOT include charity, even for loyal veterans that we all love so intensely.