I've never liked Ben Roethlisberger, whom I feel is a product of the system. I've despised Troy Polamalu, even though he might be the top safety in the NFL. But one player I can't help but like has been wide receiver Hines Ward.
Hines Ward is the definition of the ultimate NFL player. He is everything an NFL player should strive to be. He displays toughness, versatility, courage, heart, and unbelievable skill every time he steps onto a football field.
It wasn't always easy for Ward, growing up with a Korean mother and an African-American father. However, he has since become an advocate for ethnic minorities in South Korea.
In 2006, Ward donated $1 million to create the Hines Ward Helping Hands Foundation, a foundation to “help mixed-race children suffering from discrimination in South Korea.”
Ward began his football career as a quarterback in high school, where he was a two-time county Offensive Player of the Year. He earned All-American honors from USA Today and accepted a scholarship to play at the University of Georgia.
In college, the 6'0", 205-pound Ward played wide receiver, tailback, quarterback, and punt returner. He ranks second in team history in receiving yards and total yards from scrimmage.
Ward earned all-SEC honors after his 1997 campaign but was only drafted in the third round of the 1998 NFL Draft when it was discovered that he was missing an ACL in his left knee, presumably from a childhood bicycling accident.
Ward's versatility has served him well as a professional football player. During his 10 full seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, he has earned three team Most Valuable Player selections, no easy feat for a team regularly among the best in the league.
He has been selected to four Pro Bowls (2001-2004) and has made three All-Pro teams (2002-2004). Three times he has been picked for the All-NFL Team.
Ward topped 1,000 yards receiving four straight years, just missing in 2005 and 2006. In 2002, Ward set the single-season team record for receptions (112) and touchdowns (12). He set a career high with 1329 receiving yards.
He once caught a pass against the Atlanta Falcons, losing his shoe in the process, before outrunning cornerback DeAngelo Hall to the end zone. Judging by 40-yard dash times, DeAngelo Hall is the fastest player in the history of the National Football League.
Hines Ward ranks first in team history in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns, ahead of Hall of Fame greats John Stallworth and Lynn Swann.
Ward has excelled in the postseason throughout his career. He has caught eight touchdown passes in just 11 games. In five of those 11 games, he surpassed 100 yards receiving.
In Super Bowl XL, he caught five passes for 123 yards and a touchdown in the Steelers' 21-10 win. He also carried the ball one time for 18 yards and made a key block on teammate Ben Roethlisberger's one-yard touchdown plunge in the fourth quarter. He earned MVP honors, becoming just the fifth wide receiver to do so (the other four are all in the Pro Football Hall of Fame).
Ward is also one of the best, if not the best, blocking receivers in the NFL.
He broke the jaw of Cincinnati Bengals rookie Keith Rivers on a legal block early in the 2008 season. Rivers has since been placed on IR. Much controversy has arose over the hit, to which Ward has replied, “I continue seeing those blocks...It's been going on since the age of football.”
He denies attempting to injure Rivers, stating, “If I was really trying to hurt Rivers, I would have went low at him and tried to take out his knees.”
Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs of the Baltimore Ravens claims that the Ravens placed a bounty on Ward when the teams met on Monday Night Football a few weeks later. Ward's response to the supposed threat? “I take it as a big honor. It's definitely a big honor to have a bounty.”
Being tough is what Ward is all about. He began his career by playing in 112 consecutive games. He has missed only a handful of games due to injury.
Ward continues to run the football occasionally, as he has accumulated 56 carries for 430 yards and a touchdown, for an astounding 7.7 yards per attempt.
In 2000, he was asked to return kickoffs for two games. Despite having no experience at the position, he averaged over 26 yards per return, including a 57-yard return.
He could fill in at emergency quarterback, if needed, despite only throwing two passes in his professional career (one completion for 17 yards).
In the spring of 2008, a survey of NFL head coaches voted for the smartest offensive player in the league (quarterbacks not included). Hines Ward's name was picked more times than anybody else. “Hines has been one of the smartest players in the league for a long time. He just has a knack for the game,” says one AFC coach.
Ward will do whatever it takes for the Steelers to win a game. He would run through a brick wall if it meant the Steelers would win. In a game where the majority of wide receivers are more concerned with their receiving statistics, Ward will put his body on the line every play, even if he doesn't have the ball.
When the 32-year-old wide receiver finally hangs up his spikes, potentially with a second or third Super Bowl ring and a hold on every receiving record in team history, he deserves to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as one of the greatest all-around players in the history of the game.