This Steeler Fan is Not Ready to Say Goodbye to Hines Ward
At the end of every season, no matter how glorious or heartbreaking, each member of Steeler Nation must come to terms with the fact that they may never see that same combination of 53 guys wearing the Black & Gold ever again. It happens every year. New faces arrive, old faces are gone. Sometimes you get a familiar face to return like Max Starks did midseason, but that’s an exception and not the rule. With the tremendous milestones reached this season by Hines Ward and his noticeable diminished role in the offense, rumors have been flying for many weeks now that Ward might be done with the Steelers, or the Steelers might be done with Ward. Say it ain’t so Mr. Rooney!
I’m going to go ahead and place one of my disclaimers right here. I love me some Hines. If you’re looking for a critical and unbiased opinion on the realistic future Ward may have with the Steelers, you won’t find it within this article. I watched every painful minute of his appearances on Dancing with the Stars, I have multiple Ward jerseys, and to be girlie for a moment, I’m a total sucker for his smile. I also get starry eyed when he completely lays someone out with one of his signature blocks. I’ve enjoyed every minute of his 14 seasons so far with the Steelers. I just hope that there’s one season left before it’s over.
It seems as though the Pittsburgh media, while pointing out his diminished role with the offense, claims that it was because the coaches have little to no faith in his abilities and there are members of the organization that do not want him back. Ward has 2 years left on his contract and is due a roster bonus in March. Despite reaching the incredible milestones of 12,000+ receiving yards and 1,000 receptions Ward has been on the sidelines for the majority of the season, and it wasn’t because of injury. Ward’s numbers for the season were at an all-time low at 46 catches for just 381 yards. Ward didn’t catch a single ball in the loss to Denver last Sunday. No member of the Steelers organization has said anything about Ward’s future with the team, nor have they admitted that the reason his presence on the field was so scarce was because of doubts in his abilities.
Ward himself came out against the rumors and has said that he has no intentions on retiring and is willing to take a significant pay-cut to restructure his contract in order to stay one more year with his beloved Black & Gold. At 35, and never one to be known for his speed in the first place, Ward realizes that he is staring down the end of his career. He, along with me, just hopes that it ends in Pittsburgh. The Steelers will start the 2012 NFL fiscal season already over the salary cap so there will be some changes that are necessary. When asked about his willingness to restructure to stay in Pittsburgh Ward stated,
"“That’s fine with me. I recognize that. I’m telling you I want to be here, I’m telling you I’m willing to do that. And I understand the ramifications – we have the cap number and stuff, but I want to be here.”"
I don’t feel right about saying that the Steelers “owe” anything to Ward. It’s a business, I can accept that. Franco Harris had to end his career with Seattle, and that’s a shame. The Steelers organization is widely respected across the professional sports community because of the way it deals with situations like this. They don’t go after the high-priced free agents, they don’t negotiate contracts during the regular season, and they build through the draft. Hines held out during the first week of training camp in 2005 for the contract he is currently on now. He went on to become Super Bowl XL MVP later that season as we all fondly remember.
It rather upsets me to see all these reports basically stating that Hines is done and the organization is done with him before anything official has been done. Yes, we all saw his decreased playing time and production with the offense, but that doesn’t mean that you send him packing while he still has some gas left in the tank. He’s never been known for his speed so the “He’s lost his step” argument is a rather wasted one in my opinion. I think he can still be productive, even with a diminished role. I feel a little like this is an attempt for the Pittsburgh media to create a locker room controversy where there isn’t one. At 35 and after 14 seasons, I hardly think that Hines is one of those players that is the last to realize when he’s hit the end of his road. It’s a shame that the Pittsburgh media seems to be forcing him out the way they are right now.
There is a lot to be done this offseason with the salary cap, the free agents, and the needs of the team. I have complete confidence in Kevin Colbert’s ability to spend wisely and crunch the numbers like he seems to do every year. I’m grateful that Hines got the chance to basically lock down his spot in Canton with the Steelers this season. I’m just not ready for it to be done yet. Maybe I’m being irrational because I’m such a fan of his, maybe I’m the last to realize that he’s hit the end of his road, but I don’t care. I want him back for one more season and one more shot at #7. I’m also hopeful that there was a similar message to him that was given to Bussy the season before he retired. If Super Bowl XLVII was being played in Atlanta, it wouldn’t even be a question right now if Hines was coming back to us for one more try, would it?
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