The NFL draft was not the only big news for the Steelers today. Hines Ward was signed to a cap-friendly five-year deal worth $22M that will likely ensure he ends his career wearing black and gold. He publicly stated he never wants to put on another jersey and the Steelers did the right thing in granting that wish.
This is great news for Steelers fans who will now get to see one of the most popular players in Steelers' history retire as a Steeler. No player has meant more to his team throughout his career than Hines Ward. He never takes a play off and might be the best blocking WR in NFL history. His passion for the game inspires all his teammates to excellence.
He is a high character guy who has helped create great locker room chemistry for a team he has helped capture two SB rings, one as the MVP. He epitomizes the team first player and perfectly captures what Steelers football is all about. His love of the game is unmatched as he flashes his signature grin throughout each game, that grin that Steelers' fans love and Ravens' fans hate.
I live in Korea at the moment. Whenever I wear Steelers' clothes around the country, it always makes me laugh when Koreans come up to me with big smiles on their face and say "Hines Ward!" as they flash the thumbs up sign. They may know absolutely nothing else about football, but they know Hines Ward. He is something of a celebrity here.
My hope is that the irreplaceable Ward has three great years left in him. That would all but ensure he is one day enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
While I think he has more than earned his spot there, some of the stats-focused and not terribly bright voters may need a bit more convincing. A couple thousand more yards or being a key part of one more Super Bowl run would likely do the trick.
Ward holds most of the wide receiving records in Steelers' franchise history, one that included Swann and Stallworth. Quite simply, he is the best wide receiver ever to wear the black and gold.
Playing on teams emphasizing the run, Ward never complained. He simply became the best blocking WR in the game...a guy so good at it that it has completely thrown other teams off their game. He's so gotten into the heads of the Baltimore Ravens after leveling their stars (Reed, Scott, etc.), that they've lost focus on the game.
He has made the key blocks repeatedly on big Steelers' runs. And he has been Ben Roethlisberger's absolute go to guy on 3rd downs, allowing the Steelers to control the clock.
He has also made the players around him better, mentoring guys like Santonio Holmes. Too bad Plaxico Burress didn't pay better attention.
This was a signing that had to happen and I give Dan Rooney a lot of credit for making sure it did.
Even if it didn't make the best football sense (which I'm not entirely sure it didn't at that price), because of what he has meant to the city and the franchise, Ward deserves to finish his stellar career as a Steeler.