Since being drafted in the third round of the 1998 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers, wide receiver Hines Ward has always been black-and-gold. Since 2001 when Ward had his first 1,000 yard season catching 94 balls for 1,003 yards and 4 touchdowns. Since 2001 when Ward went to his first Pro Bowl. Since 2006 when Ward went to his first Super Bowl, where he would not only win his first Super Bowl but his first Super Bowl M.V.P. Since 2009 when Ward won his second Super Bowl. Since it all, Ward has been through it all, through the ups and the downs, Hines Ward has seen it all, all as a Pittsburgh Steeler.
Though come Wednesday, February 29th Hines Ward would see something that he never saw coming, and that was a phone call from Steelers owner Dan Rooney saying that he was going to be released.
“We had a conversation today with Hines Ward and informed him that we plan to release him of his contract prior to the start of the 2012 NFL calendar year,” Rooney said. “Hines has been an integral part of our success since we drafted him in 1998, and we will forever be grateful for what he has helped us achieve.”
Ward was the Steelers all time leader in just about every notable receiving category for the teams franchise as he owns the career records for receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns.
“This isn’t how I wanted this chapter of my career to end,” Ward said in a statement. “I did everything in my power to remain a Steeler and finish what I started here 14 years ago.”
Everything in his power, however according The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, who cited an unnamed source, reported that the Steelers didn’t approach Ward about taking a pay cut to remain on the team.
As for Ward’s teammates they feel the same pain.
“Hines is black-and-gold,” Roethlisberger told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I see him and wonder what it’ll be like for me late in my career, things like that. It’s hard. Two of my favorite players growing up, Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, they’re still 49ers. Hines will always be a Steeler.”
Roethlisberger who began playing with Ward in 2004 after being taken with the 11th pick that year also told the newspaper that he left Ward a message on his cell phone “letting him know, ‘Thank you for everything.’ ”
Ward is coming off of a second career low season (only his rookie season was lower) as he only caught 46 passes for 381 yards and 2 touchdowns though despite being released he still has plans of playing.
“I do feel that I still have more football left in me and I am looking forward to playing in the NFL, again, this upcoming season,” Ward said.
“I gave my heart and soul for (the fans) every down and I will always bleed black and gold,” Ward said.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette also said that the Steelers may consider releasing long time great line backer, James Farrior as well.