Pittsburgh Steeler wide receiver Hines Ward is a throwback to a bygone era.
Led by stalwart wide receiver Hines Ward, the Pittsburgh Steelers lace up for the Super Bowl for the third time in six years.
By Timothy Yoo
Illustration by Noah Dempewolf
Yesterday, Hines Ward helped the Steelers topple the New York Jets 24-19 in the American Football Conference (AFC) Championship Game, earning the National Football League’s most vaunted franchise a record-tying eighth overall trip to the big game. Although he grew up in Georgia, the longest-tenured current Steeler has now indelibly etched his name into Pittsburgh lore with his gridiron success.
For a professional football player, Ward, who is half-Korean, isn’t particularly large (he’s generously listed at 6-feet, 200 pounds), nor is he known for blazing speed (he runs 40 yards in about 4.5 seconds) or exceptional leaping ability (a 33-inch vertical). But no NFL receiver had a better decade than the Steelers’ stalwart wide receiver—who is now in the 13th season of what could be a Hall-of-Fame career.
In fact, between 2001 and 2010, no one in the NFL had more than Ward’s 830 catches. You read that right. Over the last ten seasons, Hines Ward—not Randy Moss, not Terrell Owens and not Reggie Wayne—led the league in receptions. In addition, he had the fourth-most touchdown receptions during that time span, with 72, and his 10,146 receiving yards were sixth-best among NFL pass catchers. On top of his impressive statistical numbers, Ward led the Steelers to two Super Bowl titles and collected MVP honors for his efforts in Super Bowl XL after the 2005 season. Beyond his numbers and accolades, though, he is perhaps best known for his physical style of play and punishing blocks that have laid out dozens of opposing defenders.
A wide receiver’s principal responsibilities on the football field are to run routes, and when thrown the ball, to catch it. Simple, really. Depending on the coverage, a primary receiver like Ward will get targeted between five to ten times per game. But in a typical football game, each team will run approximately 60 to 70 offensive plays. Naturally, this raises the question: What do receivers do the rest of the time? Well, ideally, they’re supposed to block for their teammates, a decidedly less glamorous task than going deep. This is why most “star” receivers avoid it. Take Randy Moss, for example, who is infamous for loafing on plays where he isn’t the primary target. It makes pragmatic sense; after all, “blocks” aren’t included on a receiver’s stat sheet next to yards and touchdowns, which are what ultimately draws the big paychecks.
Somehow, someone forgot to explain all of this to Hines.