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With the odds of a home playoff game greatly diminished, there's a chance that the Steelers are playing their home finale this weekend. That means that a few players could inevitably wear the black team jersey for the last time in playing action.
Contracts end, negotiations are had and free agents part ways with the Black and Gold. Fans in the Steel City once knew a dynasty comprised of homegrown talent, but they've since adjusted to the reality of the modern NFL.
Among those bound to leave, Chris Kemoeatu may be the one player fans are ready to walk out of the city themselves. Foolish penalties and bad play all-around have shined an unwanted spotlight on the selfish, hot-headed offensive lineman. And, no, I don't feel I'm overstating it.
For all of their banal desires to oust those players who completely lack discipline, Steelers fans are also a largely sentimental bunch.
To be sure, Steelers Country would weep to know that Hines Ward is playing his final game at Heinz Field, if it were indeed true. In this way, perhaps, it's better for fans to wonder if future home games are in the cards for the postseason...or if Ward will return to the team for one last hurrah.
With another season of statistical decline, it's clear Ward's best days are far behind him. This is not to devalue his contributions. There's no doubt that Hines can still make the key catch on the key down of any key game, but those spotlight moments have gone from common to occasional to limited in recent seasons.
Despite his decline, nobody will ever remember Ward for his struggles. They'll remember the man who was, as Tunch Ilkin describes, "tougher than woodpecker lips!"
Fans will vividly recall the key blocks of a blue collar receiver who brought muscle to a position that frequently lacks physical integrity.
Memories will always swirl of the hardworking receiver who always had a smile on his face, lacking an ACL in his knee and fighting harder than anybody to overcome physical odds ascend from a special teams regular to a receiving star.
Old buddies recalling the great games over a few beers will talk about him bouncing right back up from the hardest hits that angry Ravens could offer. They'll also talk about the receiver's rivalry with Ed Reed.
And, who could ever forget to mention the miraculous grabs, the Super Bowl touchdowns and the infuriating slant pattern that had defenses league-wide up in arms about how to stop it?
Whether this contest or any other marks his final game on Heinz Field grass, the moments deserve to be highlighted and forever memorialized for one of the great Steelers legends to ever play.
It's entirely possible that he will return, so nothing should be assumed. But, if this were to be his last home outing, I think everyone would agree to join me in giving Ward the following compliment of the finest quality:
Hines Ward is and always will be true Black and Gold!