Hines Ward: Should Super Bowl XLV Be His Last Game?

Tyler DewdneyCorrespondent IJanuary 31, 2011

PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 12:  Hines Ward #86 of the Pittsburgh Steelers catches a pass in front of Johnathan Wade #26 of the Cincinnati Bengals during the game on December 12, 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Earlier this year, Hines Ward went on record saying that he would retire if the Steelers won the Super Bowl.  Now, it seems the 34 year old is eating his words.  Recently, Ward has made it very clear that he plans to return to the Steelers next season.

There are numerous cases of athletes (Brett Favre) saying they will retire and then, when it becomes a reality, going back on their word because they just can't imagine being away from the game.  Ward, however, may be a different case.

Ward has established a reputation for being forthcoming and honest with the media, but should we believe his recent turnaround?  Is he saying what he is saying in order to keep from distracting his team on the eve of Super Bowl XLV, or should we really believe him?

While his mental fortitude and strong leadership characteristics suggest one train of thought, his stats suggest another. 

If Hines Ward wants to be remembered as a productive receiver on a great team, he should retire after Super Bowl XLV regardless of the outcome.  Win or lose, he goes out in a better way than he would if he returns for another season. 

Ward has lost his ability to get good separation from opposing defensive backs and he isn't getting any younger.  While his hands remain strong, they can't do their work if there is no space to throw the ball. 

Throughout his career Ward has made a living off of mid-range passes, averaging around 12 yards a catch.  Catching those passes requires a quick jump off the line, and the ability to get away from a defender within the first ten yards, something which Ward has struggled to do this season. 

This past regular season Ward had 59 receptions for 755 yards and five touchdowns.  As a comparison, the last time Hines ward had fewer than 1,000 yards in a season in which he played all 16 games was ten years ago.  You would also have to go back to 2000 to find the last time he averaged fewer than 50 yards a game.

It's clear that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is targeting other receivers.  In two postseason games, Ward is fourth in targets among Steeler's receivers with just five. 

Second year receiver Mike Wallace has passed Ward as Roethlisberger's go-to receiver as he broke out this year with 1,257 receiving yards.  Also, third round pick Emmanuel Sanders is set to have more targets than Ward this postseason. 

With sure handed tight end Heath Miller, Wallace and Sanders as options for Roethlisberger next season, it is likely that if he returns, Ward would post career-low numbers. 

It is time for Hines Ward to hang up the cleats instead of clinging to the notion that he can still play like he used to.  The stats don't lie, and they are telling him to quit while he's ahead. 

Arguably a Hall of Famer, Ward should leave football after the Super Bowl so he'll be remembered as one of the greats, rather than one of the greats who fizzled out towards the end of his career.