Hines Ward officially retired Tuesday, and his former teammates couldn’t resist having a little fun given how prone the Steelers’ wide receiver is to showing his emotions.
So on the most emotional of days for Ward, Aaron Smith won the pool by guessing that one of the greatest players in Steelers history would shed tears two-and-a-half minutes into his news conference.
Ward made it roughly two minutes by my count before choking up –- and he didn’t even make it to a question before getting emotional.
Smith, Jerome Bettis, Brett Keisel and James Harrison were among those that attended Ward’s teary farwell. Also in the packed media room for his goodbye were Steelers president Art Rooney II, general manager Kevin Colbert, coach Mike Tomlin and director of administration Omar Khan.
Ward talked about a number of things, including the advice he has given Mike Wallace and his first days with the Steelers. Here are four questions with Ward.
Q: How would you say the game has evolved and do you like the way the game is now?
A: I just love the game period. For me, I was here when we were a run-oriented team. With Tommy Maddox here, I think Plaxico (Burress) and I each had over 1,300 yards, and that was when we were a passing team, but at the end of the day, it is all about winning championships. Regardless of people saying the Steeler Way is running the ball, the Steeler Way to me is winning games and winning championships, by any means necessary, just going out there and getting the job done. So to me, it is kind of crazy because you would envy someone who would be in a passing offense, but at the end of the day, if that isn’t want helped us win a Super Bowl, then it didn’t matter. I think the only thing that matters to us players is that we can say we won Super Bowls, and I think that is why we play this game today. It is not about stats, Brett (Keisel) and James (Harrison), those guys, they don’t want to have to worry about stats. You can go to Pro Bowls all day, but if you never won a Super Bowl, none of that means anything. And that is the reason we play this game and the older we get we know that our window of opportunity is less so you want to make sure all of the younger guys, because when you are young and you have success you think you can just go back there all the time. I looked at a guy like Jerome, played his whole career and finally got the opportunity, and was blessed towards the end of his career, and that meant the world to me, to help him achieve that goal, not only for myself but growing up as a single family, a single child, from a single mother, these were my brothers. So anything I could do on and off the field, I got excited about it. So winning that Super Bowl for him, he and I will have that special bond that no one can take away. When I come back and I see the guys and to the day, that is something we can share because that is something we cherished and shared together. That is what I am going to miss most about those guys, seeing them on a day-to-day basis but whenever I come back in Pittsburgh or if I pick up the phone to call, they will be more than welcome to lend a helping hand, to reach out to me. I think more than anything that is what I will miss as I retire today. Those memories last a lifetime for me and it is something that no one can ever take away from me.
Q: Have you given any counsel to Mike Wallace about his future?
A: One thing I told Mike, you may get a chance to go other places, but there is not a special place like Pittsburgh, and like I said earlier, that is what I am going to miss most, just driving to the game, seeing the families start their tradition off, as a child you are born with a terrible towel, and going out and seeing the tailgating with your family, you grow into that. When you have kids, you have seen your grandparents out there. That is a special bond that this city has. Being that I have played here for 14 years and haven’t played anywhere else, I don’t know how other teams are. So for Mike, I am always going to be his biggest fan, but it is a special place to play here and I have been very blessed to have played all 14 years here, so I just told Mike to look at it in that perspective, I wouldn’t know what it is like playing for any other organization. But I hope he stays and continues the rich tradition of wide outs here. He is an explosive guy and the sky is the limit for Mike. I think Mike can do great things. I hope we sign him back, and he continues here because I would love to see him have success here and carry on that tradition.
Q: Do you remember what it was like to put on the Steelers uniform your first day?
A: I remember it like it was yesterday. When I came into the locker room and I saw Jerome (Bettis) and Kordell (Stewart) and I was almost a big fan, like I would call and say I saw Jerome two lockers down. And getting the chance to look at the uniform, and know what the uniform means, and what that uniform means to this city. It was almost surreal that I always dreamt about making it to the NFL and luckily, Mr. Rooney, they took a chance on me, and I am very grateful of that. To be here and play 14 years, not a lot of guys can say that. So I am very thankful for that, and I do remember the first time putting on that uniform, and not only putting it on, but playing for the guys before me, and continuing that great tradition and playing for this great city that I love.
Q: What was your mindset on being a blocker for this team?
A: I learned early, I really didn’t have any choice when you had Jerome back there, of course you had to give him the ball and for me that was a way of me making a name for myself. Being on a predominantly run-oriented offense, run-oriented organization, I learned at an early age that that was my role. Of course you are envious of guys who catch 100 balls, but you have to think, before I got here, the record was 85 catches, and that is nothing nowadays compared to back then. But that was my role on the team and my first three years, in order to stay in this organization and on this team, I had to play special teams, do the dirty work, but I knew that Jerome and all of the guys that I blocked my tail off for, they appreciate it. I think that the offensive line, seeing a guy that is 200 pounds out there blocking linebackers and defensive ends and stuff, I think it is a trickle affect. The biggest honor that I had is that the defense has a little highlight tape, and at the end I was on their tape. And I have always said that our defense is the reason we have won a lot of championships, they gave us the opportunity to win a lot of championships, so for me to be on their highlight tape, it is a huge honor for me and to see that. I know those guys appreciate it and for me to be on a defensive highlight tape, that meant the world to me.
– Scott Brown