Debating Hall of Fame credentials, even for an eminently qualified player like Hines Ward, has become a favorite pastime for fans and football analysts alike in recent years.
While it's unclear if any of this talking has much impact when it comes time to vote, it's guaranteed to give people something to talk about.
Hines Ward is a player that often can polarize a conversation (assuming there are non-Pittsburgh fans present). But he has some solid credentials.
Here's a look at five reasons why Ward will be a Hall of Fame inductee someday.
Yes, statistics. I know, Ward has never been that guy. He's never had the flash of Randy Moss or Terrell Owens or gobbled up touchdown passes by the dozen. But he has put together some impressive statistics, and he's in some good company on the all-time list.
Let's have a look at some comparisons:
That's better than Art Monk, Michael Irvin and Steve Largent (not to mention any other Steelers receiver) and good for a tie for eighth place all-time. Ward has the potential to move up a spot or two as well.
That's better than Monk, James Lofton and Fred Biletnikoff and good for 19th all-time. Ward will probably crack the top 10 if he plays another couple of years.
That's good for 21st, but Ward will move into the top 15 by the end of the season most likely. Right now, he's still ahead of Irvin, Lance Alworth and Shannon Sharpe.
So its safe to say that Ward is in the conversation based upon statistics alone, which is hallowed ground for a lot of people these days.
Throughout his career, Ward was often given the title of "best-blocking receiver in football." Before he arrived on the scene, a title like that would have been almost an insult. Now, it's a badge of honor.
We've already covered how Ward stacks up statistically, but he's also done something that only a select few players at any position have done before him. He's changed his position.
Receivers are no longer only expected to catch and run good routes. They're also expected to be good blockers in the running game and even deep on pass coverage. Offensive linemen won't cover 50 or 60 yards in a matter of seconds. Receivers can and Ward has done it for years.
He's downright vicious as a blocker, a fact that's even earned him a rule change by the league to prevent his type of play (which is kind of humorous since that rule is nearly impossible to enforce).
Any player who changes the game belongs in the Hall of Fame.
Ward isn't. He's a likable guy off the field and he's a steady guy on the field. Receivers and running backs struggle to remain productive for long stretches of years. Ward's been productive every season he's been on the field.
There's something to be said for a player who contributes every year and in almost every single game. Ward plays hurt, but isn't often hurt. He's rarely missed time and has never missed a significant chunk of the season for any reason.
While longevity shouldn't be the single factor for a player entering the Hall of Fame (or we'd be sending kickers and punters in droves), it should play a part if it has some bearing on the qualifications.
Ward has done some of his best playing in the playoffs. He's helped the Steelers to two Super Bowl victories and three appearances in his career, winning MVP honors in Super Bowl XL.
Super Bowl rings aren't the only criteria, but they certainly lend credibility to a career. Michael Irvin was a productive, talented receiver during his career, but without the Super Bowl rings he won with Dallas, he may have been forgotten.
It would be hard to forget Ward for the same reasons. He's made some highlight-reel catches in the Super Bowl and has stepped up his game regularly for the playoffs.
Two rings should be sufficient for a player with Ward's other credentials, but he's looking for more. I bet he'd like to write a storybook script like Jerome Bettis and go out on top with a third ring.
The best thing about all of those reasons just listed is the last one here. Ward still hasn't hung up his cleats for good. He's got time to add to his resume.
It would be hard to overlook Ward if he ended his career today, but it might be even more impossible after 2011 or 2012. He may even make it to 2013, at which point he'd start to threaten some serious records.
Ward is one of those players that will likely be able to remain productive as his career winds down. He is able to contribute in multiple ways for the Steelers, who have every intention of letting him write his own exit it seems.