It's safe to say that no receiver going forward will ever be the same as Hines Ward, and one could argue that no wideout will ever come close to creating the emotional bond and DNA-level connection No. 86 did with Steelers fans.
Yet, if a future receiver were to want to attempt to duplicate Hines' relationship with the Steel City, what would he have to do to come close?
First, he would make the unpopular decision for that position to be a receiver that delivers bone-crushing, sometimes literally, blocks.
And, atop this, he would have to make the modern day Ed Reed cry.
Additionally, he would need to display a hybrid of unique talents that make his play a huge commodity, grappling for that extra few yards all while making sensational catches on throws that nobody has any business grabbing.
At the feet? Catch it.
Slightly behind your head? Catch it.
Just beyond your grasp but grazing the edge of your extended pinky finger? Catch it.
Well, okay, that last part could be exaggerated a wee bit.
Then, if you can do all of that, all that is left is setting the team record for receptions, earning 1,000 catches, putting on a Super Bowl MVP performance, grooming a new wave of young talent that will carry the team beyond your tenure and leaving an organization with the utmost of class and graciousness.
After one accomplishes all of those things, then, and only then, they could possibly come close to embodying the stature and heart of a Hines Ward in a way that makes them even nearly as beloved as Ward became in the city that embraced him.
Ward was the ultimate Steelers guy.
If Ward was a Steelers guy, Lynn Swann—at first glance—would not have been labeled as such. After all, from ballet classes to an alleged softness by some of the NFL's nastiest defenders (George Atkinson, anyone?), Swann didn't seem to carry the obvious attributes that endear one's self to blue collar football fans.
However, by all accounts of his teammates, Swann was a prize fighter, willing to stick his nose into the mix—including over the dangerous middle of the field—to make the key catch.
In the ultimate display of toughness, Swann played in Super Bowl X after many, including Dallas players who made their thoughts public, wondered if he would be able to participate.
Making four of the finest catches in Super Bowl history, Swann won MVP honors. It wouldn't be the last time he would torture the Cowboys on Super Sunday, as the Steelers beat Dallas again three years later in Super Bowl XIII.
Swann's fourth quarter touchdown, the final score of the game for Pittsburgh, proved to be the winning points.
John Stallworth was equally huge in Super Bowls. His two deep receptions in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XIV, including a touchdown bomb, were the main catalysts that completed the Steelers dynasty with four Lombardi Trophies.
While Swann is regarded by many as the more talented of the two receivers, it was Stallworth whose contributions were more voluminous, finishing his career with 537 receptions for 8,723 yards and 63 touchdowns.
Few would argue that the list above represents the "big three" of Pittsburgh receivers, but a few other fantastic faces are hidden in that wideout crowd.
Louie Lipps simply came to the Steel City a decade too late, a surefire talent whose skills were every bit on par with the best pass catchers in team history. Lipps was mentored by Stallworth when he arrived in Pittsburgh in 1984.
Many have forgotten his unique special teams skills, setting the NFL record for punt return yards in a season during his rookie campaign with 656 yards. He also contributed that season in the air with over 800 yards and nine touchdowns.
After getting to the century mark in receiving yards and scoring a dozen touchdowns in 1985, injuries hindered his progress from 1986-87.
Undaunted, he came back with a vengeance in 1988 before leading the team in receptions, yards, and touchdown in 1989, his second year as team MVP.
In 1995, the next noteworthy Steelers receiving performance came from Yancy Thigpen, who set a team record that stands today with 1,398 receiving yards in 1997.
Now, with Hines Ward officially retired, who will be the next legendary receiver to make a career full of big plays for the Black and Gold? Can the team resign Mike Wallace to the long-term deal he desires? Will Antonio Brown prove to be the long-term version of Santonio Holmes, making clutch catches and huge special teams plays?