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Number #4 on the List of All-Time Best Players of the Cowher Era

For 15 Days we will be counting down the Top 15 Greatest Steelers of the Bill Cowher Era. The list will have both offensive and defensive players, and in doing the list no kickers or punters were selected. Below is our number choice of the day building towards the number one Steeler of the Cowher Era.

Number #4

Hines Ward WR 1998-Present


Drafted in the third round of the 1998 draft by the Steelers, Hines Ward has established himself as possibly the greatest Steelers wide out of all-time.  He has earned three team MVP awards, is a four-time Pro Bowl selection, had a streak of four straight 1,000+-yard seasons, and is the Steelers all-time leading receiver in terms of catches.  That mark came back on November 27th, 2005 when Ward hauled in a pass on a Sunday night game vs the Cleveland Browns from backup QB Charlie Batch.  And if that isn’t enough, Ward was the MVP for Super Bowl XL when he caught five passes for 123 yards and a toucdown on a trick-play that sealed the deal in a 21-10 win over the Seahawks.  When you think of the best ever in a Steelers uniform, there is no question that Ward’s name must come to mind.

Not that it was always wine and roses for Ward, who played his college ball at the University of Georgia.  The talented receiver not only was called upon to catch balls, but also played quarterback and tailback.  He was almost too good, and after totalling 3,870 all-purpose yards, second only to Herschel Walker in the school’s history, many didn’t know what to draft Ward as.  Then there was the problem that after he came out of Georgia, it was found out that he was missing an ACL in his right knee.  Needless to say this type of development affected his position in the NFL draft.          

The Steelers though liked what they saw from Ward, and took a chance on him in the 3rd round.  There are not many 6-foot WR’s in the league, but that didn’t stop the Steelers from taking him.  The first season Ward was with the Steelers he did play in all 16 games, making plays on special teams, but only caught 15 passes for 246 yards and no touchdowns.  In 1999, Ward started to make a name for himself, hauling in 61 catches for 638 yards and 7 TD’s.  He started to show he had a knack for the end zone, as well as breaking tackles.  Then though in the offseason of 99, Ward was handed a blow, as the team took tall wide receiver, Plaxico Burress , who became the starting wide receiver before he was fitted with a uniform.  Ward was not happy with the decision to bench him bascially for no reason, and was steadfast on coming back and showing what he could do.

He gained his starting job back, and in a season in which the Steelers struggled, Ward was solid, catching 48 passes for 672 yards and four TD’s.  The Steelers were 9-7 that year, and the following year became a force once again in the NFL.  Teamming with Burress on the other side and Kordell Stewart at QB, the Steelers went 13-3, with Ward leading the way with 94 catches for 1003 yards and 4 TD’s.  Six games that year he caught 8 or more passes, and had a huge game in a week 10 win over the Jets, catching 10 passes for 124 yards.  As if that season was good, the following year was even better for Ward.

Now a standout in the league when it came to toughness, Ward started gaining respect for going over the middle, making the tough catches, and being the best blocking receiver in the game.  2002 he played in all 16 games, catching 112 passes (team record) for 1329 yards and 12 TD’s.  He led a Steelers passing game quarterbacked by Tommy Maddox, and had four 100+ yard games, including a 10 catch 168-yard game with two TD’s vs the Titans on November 17th.  The Steelers were bounced in the 2nd round of the playoffs, but Ward again was a big part of the reason they were there in the first place.

2003 the Steelers took a step back.  They tried to go to a more wide-open offense, and failed to remember how the running game was the main reason they had been as successful as they were in the past.  This didn’t stop Ward from having a good season, another 95 catches for 1163 yards and 10 TD’s, but overall the team was not as successful as the previous two seasons.  With Ben Roethlisberger coming into his own in 2004, Ward was right on board with the rookie QB.  He played in all 16 games for 7th straight season, and caught 80 catches for 1004 yards and 4 TD’s.  He made some huge plays in the teams playoff win over the Jets, including a TD that tied the game late.  Despite the team losing to the Pats the following week, things looked bright for the wide out and the team.

Before the 2005 season Ward missed the first two weeks of training camp in a holdout for a new contract. The WR talked about holding out before camp in 2004, but had been persuaded by the Steelers that they could work out an extension during the year. Ward showed up on August 15th and was on the sidelines for the teams first preseason game against the Eagles, though he didn’t play in that game. On September 5th the Steelers announced that they had reached an agreement on a four-year contract extension with Ward.

That season he again was a force, catching 69 passes for 975 yards and 11 TD’s.  He saved his best for last, having a big Super Bowl that was highlighted by his touchdown catch that clinched the 21-10 win.  Ward in the post season has played well, catching 57 passes for 761 yards, and 8 receiving touchdowns in 10 post-season appearances.  The 2006 season showed despite the team not having a winning record, that Ward was still a great WR, catching 74 passes for 975 yards and six TD’s.  He did this in 14 games as he was injured for the other two.

There is no doubt that Ward, who at 31 barring any major injuries should still play another 4-5 years, should make a serious run at Canton and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  This year he will go over 650 catches (right now at 648) and has right now 8005 yards and 58 TD’s.  He is a Steelers all-time great right now, and that is with a few more years to go in Black and Gold. 

Matt Loede has been in the sports media for over 16 years, with experience covering the MLB, NBA, and NFL. On Sunday’s during football season, you can hear Matt on national networks like Fox Sports Radio, Associated Press, and others. Born and raised in Cleveland Ohio, Matt studies and talks football inside and out, and is anxious to share his thoughts and comments with readers on a daily basis.

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