Hines Ward has been released by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Despite the outpouring of sadness across Steeler Nation, it isn’t quite the bombshell it would have been even a season ago. In fact, everybody from Hines on down have acknowledged if he were to return next year, it would be under a reworked contract and in a reduced role. Nevertheless, just because we knew this was coming doesn’t make it any easier.
Unlike the last great Steeler to retire, the end for Hines comes not with a bang but with a whimper. Our final memory of Jerome Bettis is him announcing his retirement while holding the Lombardi Trophy aloft. Our final memory of Hines will be those annoying shots of him sitting glumly on the bench while the Steelers’ offense tried time and time again to get something going against the stubborn Denver Broncos. While the Bus didn’t exactly set the world on fire his last year, he still contributed 9 touchdowns and 26 heart attacks when he fumbled the ball in Indianapolis. Hines had a totally forgettable season, barely seeing the field for long stretches of time. Even what should have been his signature moment, his 1,000th career reception, was somewhat anticlimactic when it was force-fed to him on a little shovel pass which lost five yards.
But let’s not dwell on the sad ending. It’s far better to Hines for what he was, the greatest wide receiver in Steelers history. Not bad for a third round draft choice out of Georgia. He came to Pittsburgh with little fanfare and spent most the majority of his first three years playing special teams and serving as a third receiver behind Plaxico Burress and epic first-round bust Troy Edwards (what the hell were they thinking when they drafted him?). When he finally became a full-time starter in 2001, he ripped off the first of four consecutive 1,000 yard seasons and Pro Bowl appearances. From that point on, Hines Ward and the Steelers became synonymous.
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