Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
27 Jan 2006
by Mike Tanier
Unlike most star wide receivers, Hines Ward isn't a showboat, a prima donna, or a malingerer. Therefore he doesn't get a lot of ink.
Actually, in the paradoxical world of sports journalism, he gets tons of ink about not getting a lot of ink. With over a week of Super Bowl hype to go, you're going to hear a lot about Ward. And every other Steelers player. And all of the Seahawks.
But just in case the national media misses Ward while tripping over itself to get to Jerome Bettis, I decided to collect some random facts about Ward: some statistical, some personal, and some involving tangential topics like football cards, radio controlled cars, video games, banana ketchup, Buddy Dial, and Benedictine Monks. How many facts did I collect? Well, the guy's name is Hines, after all.
1. Ward was born in Seoul and is half Korean. The Korean translation of his name is tattooed on his upper right arm.
2. Ward's parents divorced when he was 14 months old. His mother washed dishes in the Atlanta airport and worked several other jobs to support him when he was in elementary school.
3. Ward does not have an anterior cruciate ligament in one of his knees as the result of a childhood bicycle accident.
4. Ward attended Forest Park High School in Georgia. Their nickname is the Panthers. Their school musical this year is Peter Pan.
5. At Forest Park, Ward was named the Clayton County Offensive Player of the Year twice. He played quarterback in high school.
6. In 1993, when Ward was Offensive Player of the Year, Izell McGill was Defensive MVP. McGill later tied a Mississippi State University team record with six interceptions in 1997. McGill did not reach the pros, but Ward and McGill faced off several times in college.
7. Ward passed for 3,581 yards and 38 touchdowns while rushing for 2,500 yards and 29 touchdowns in three prep seasons, but he never won the Clayton County championship. After he graduated, Todd Wells took over and took the Panthers to the Georgia state playoffs twice.
8. Ward played running back as a freshman at Georgia. Mike Bobo was the Bulldogs quarterback. When Bobo got hurt, Ward moved to quarterback.
9. Ward threw for 413 yards and rushed for 56 yards in the Peach Bowl as a true freshman. Georgia lost that game to Virginia, 34-27, on a last-minute kickoff return touchdown by Demetrius Allen. Tiki Barber rushed for 103 yards and a touchdown in the game. Ward was named Offensive MVP for the game.
10. Ward shared kickoff return duties with Champ Bailey during the 1997 season. He shared them with Patrick Pass during the 1996 season.
11. Ward is tied with Reggie Brown for fourth place on the all-time receptions list for Georgia. He's second to Herschel Walker in career all-purpose yards for the Bulldogs.
12. The year before Ward was drafted, Yancey Thigpen led the Steelers in receiving. Thigpen reached the Pro Bowl with a 79-catch, 1,398-yard, 7-touchdown season in 1997.
13. Ward was a third-round pick. The Steelers spent three first-round picks on wide receivers in the 1990's, two of them after they selected Ward: Charles Johnson in 1994, Troy Edwards in 1999, and Plaxico Burress in 2000.
14. Those three players combined for 607 receptions with the Steelers, 33 more than Ward.
15. Ward was selected 92nd overall in the 1998 draft. He was the last player taken on Day One of the draft. Kevin Dyson was the first receiver drafted that year; Randy Moss was second.
16. We know how Moss turned out. Dyson's career has been sabotaged by injuries; his brother Andre may cover Ward in Super Bowl XL. Other receivers drafted before Ward include Marcus Nash (also a first-round pick), Jerome Pathon, Jacquez Green, Patrick Johnson, Mikhael Ricks, Brian Alford, and E.G. Green.
17. Wide Receiver Larry Shannon was drafted by the Dolphins ten spots before Ward in the 1998 draft. Shannon averaged 21.4 yards per catch and scored nine touchdowns for East Carolina in 1996 before hurting his ankle in 1997. He never caught a pass in the NFL. Az Hakim was selected four spots after Ward.
18. Brian Griese was selected one spot before Ward. Guard Steve McKinney was drafted after Ward.
19. Here's part of the scouting report on Ward from the 1998 CNN/SI Draft War Room: "One of the more versatile players in this draft â€¦ He is obviously a great athlete and a very explosive player â€¦ He has good hands, and overall ball skills, but may need some refinement as a WR, as his experience is not as deep as most of the WRs in this draft.. He may not be ready as a rookie, but there is a good upside to this guy, because of his versatility and athleticism."
20. Ward's first career reception was a 12-yard pass from Kordell Stewart. His first career completion was a 17-yard pass to Stewart.
21. Ward was a special teams standout as a rookie, recording 28 special teams tackles. He downed four punts inside the 10-yard line, one of them at the one-yard line and another at the two-yard line. He also stuffed Titans punter Craig Hentrich for a one-yard loss on a fake punt.
22. In Ward's rookie season (1998), Courtney Hawkins led the Steelers with 66 receptions. Johnson led the team in receiving yards with 813. Ward finished fourth on the team in receiving; Will Blackwell was third in both receptions and yards.
23. One major on-line sports trading card company is currently selling Ward's rookie football card for $7.99. That price gets you either the Score rookie card or the Upper Deck MVP rookie card.
24. That same website is currently selling Bryant McFadden and (incredibly) Brian St. Pierre rookie cards for $7.99.A Ben Roethlisberger rookie card (Bowman, Score, Topps, or Topps Bazooka) will set you back $34.99. The Topps card is the coolest one, by the way.
25. A John Stallworth rookie card (1977) also costs $34.99. Lynn Swann's card isn't listed on the site; Beckett's Guide lists it at $18.
26. Former Steelers receiving coach Kenny Jackson on Ward's blocking: "Hines is like a pit bull. If he latches on to you, it's over. It's his makeup."
27. In 2001, Browns safety Earl Little boasted during the Steelers game that he was going to "kill" Ward. A few plays later, while blocking for a swing pass, Ward lowered his shoulder into Little and leveled him. Ward stood over Little and flexed his muscles. Browns cornerback Corey Fuller traded words with Ward. Fuller was flagged for taunting. Little left the field on a stretcher.
28. Here's what Ward had to say about the Little hit and what came next: "My emotions got to me as far as when the guy was down and standing over him, and I'm sorry for that â€” that's not me. But in the heat of battle, when somebody is talking trash to you, your emotions take over when you get a good hit like that."
29. Ward's first career 100-yard game came against the Jaguars in Week 10 of the 2001 season, one week after the Little block. Ward had nine catches for 112 yards and one touchdown. The Steelers won, 20-7.
30. In his first playoff game, Ward caught three passes for 37 yards and ran once for six yards in a 27-10 win over the Ravens. One of the receptions set up a one-yard touchdown run by Amos Zereoue. Ward further helped the Steelers' cause by recovering two fumbles. Both of the fumbles were forced by Ray Lewis.
31. Hines Ward has played his home games at Heinz Field since 2001. The H.J. Heinz Company doesn't actually make 57 products; it makes several thousand, from ketchup and relish to baby foods.
32. Heinz didn't start by making ketchup. The company's first product was horseradish. Today, it produces more than 1.4 billon bottles of ketchup every year. Heinz even makes banana ketchup for sale in the Philippines.
33. Ward caught six passes for 64 yards in his second playoff game, a 24-17 loss to the Patriots after the 2001 season. He was involved in two plays in that game which were reversed by instant replay. An incomplete pass to Ward early in the second quarter was initially ruled a 40-yard completion. In the third quarter, Ward lost control of the football after a 13-yard gain. Ty Law recovered the apparent fumble, but Ward was ruled down after reviewing the replay.
34. Ward had a remarkable stretch during the 2002 season. In Weeks 10, 11, and 12, Ward caught a total of 26 passes for 432 yards and four touchdowns.
35. The Steelers faced the Browns in the 2002 playoffs. Two of Tommy Maddox's first three passes to Ward were intercepted by Daylon McCutcheon. One pick led to a Browns touchdown. The other led to a Steelers touchdown: the Browns punted three plays later, and Antwaan Randle El returned the punt 55 yards for a score.
36. Ward and Maddox would bounce back in that Browns game, connecting 11 times for 104 yards and a touchdown. The Steelers trailed 33-21 with 5:30 to play in the game. Ward caught four passes for 34 yards in the Pittsburgh comeback, including a four-yard touchdown and a catch at the three-yard line to set up the winning score by Chris Fuamatu Ma'afala.
37. In his first meeting with the Seahawks (Week 3, 1999), Ward caught two passes for 18 yards.
38. In his last meeting with the Seahawks (Week 9, 2003), Ward caught eight passes for 56 yards and a touchdown and rushed three times for 14 yards.
39. Ward's touchdown in that Seahawks game cut Seattle's lead to 16-13. But Ward was flagged for taunting. The 15-yard penalty was enforced on the kickoff, and the short field made it easier for the Seahawks to score their next touchdown.
40. Ward drew the penalty and a $5000 fine when he spiked the ball at the feet of cornerback Ken Lucas after scoring in that game. "I'd rather hit the guy," Ward said later in the week. "At least it would be worth it."
41. Many people feel that Ward is underrated. In 2002, he made Jim Gigliotti's All Underrated team on NFL.com. A poll of Football Outsiders readers after the 2004 season ranked Ward as the seventh most underrated player in the NFL (Deion Branch topped the list). David J. Neal wrote an article in the Miami Herald this week about how little recognition Ward receives compared to other top receivers.
42. Mike Holley, author of Patriot Reign: Bill Belichick, the Coaches, and the Players Who Built a Champion, offered a different take in 2004: "Hines is so underrated now that he's overrated." Holley mentioned Derrick Mason as the most underrated player in the league.
43. Steelers quarterbacks have thrown 767 passes to Ward in the past five seasons. Ward is less of a target now than he was in 2002 and 2003, when Mike Mularkey was offensive coordinator and Tommy Maddox was quarterback. Ward was targeted 317 times in those two seasons. He has been thrown to 223 times in the past two seasons.
44. Ward's total DPAR over the past five seasons is 133.3. For new readers, that means that Ward has produced 133.3 more points for the Steelers offense than a typical backup receiver would produce. By comparison, Terrell Owens' DPAR for the last five years is 129.3, Randy Moss' DPAR is 130.5, Marvin Harrison's DPAR is 177.9, and Torry Holt's is 171.2.
45. Ward shared a 30-minute radio show with former Steelers punter Josh Miller before Miller left for New England. "I was the funny guy," Miller said of the show, "and he was Hines Ward."
46. Steelers players like to race radio controlled cars during down time at training camp. Many of them have custom-built R/C racers. Ward has an R/C Escalade with his name on the windshield. Yes, Jerome Bettis has a black-and-gold R/C bus.
47. In 2003, Ward tied a team record with 12 touchdown receptions. He shares the record with Louis Lipps and Buddy Dial.
48. Lipps, who tied the record in 1985, caught 358 passes for the Steelers from 1984 to 1991. He reached the Pro Bowl in his first two seasons but never lived up to early expectations. Dial set the record in 1961. He was a two-time Pro Bowl player who twice gained over 1,000 receiving yards in the early 1960's, He's a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, but he's best known to law students for his role in Dial vs. NFL Player Supplemental Disability Plan, in which Dial's ex-wife sued for half of the benefits awarded to Dial in the 1993 collective bargaining agreement.
49. Ward caught 18 passes on third down this season. Seventeen of them netted first downs. Last season, he was 17-of-20 on third downs. In 2003, he was 21-of-25.
50. Ward has made four two-point conversions in the regular season, three of them in 2002. In the 2002 playoffs, he completed a pass to Plaxico Burress for a two-point conversion.
51. A 2004 poll by CNN/SI ranked Hines Ward as the second "dirtiest" player in the NFL behind Rodney Harrison. A total of 354 current and former players were polled.
52. The video game Madden '06 gave Ward an overall rating of 94, sixth among NFL receivers. Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Marvin Harrison, Torry Holt, and Chad Johnson all outranked him. (All rankings are for the "out of the box" version of the game with no updates).
53. In the same video game, Ward is ranked as the third strongest receiver (behind David Boston and Owens). He is ranked 10th in throwing power among receivers, behind numerous college quarterbacks like teammate Antwaan Randle El. He's the top rated run blocker among wide receivers in the game, with a rating of 65. That rating would actually place him 11th among tight ends.
54. During Ward's contract holdout this offseason, the monks of St. Vincent's Benedictine Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania appealed to God on Ward's behalf. St. Vincent's is the home of the Steelers training camp. "We are praying that there will be negotiations soon," Archabbot Douglas Nowicki said. "Hines Ward is an important part of the team, and he's a wonderful human being."
55. Teammate Joey Porter on Ward during his August holdout: "We can't win without him. He's worth whatever he's asking for." Ward's holdout was initially contentious, but he agreed to join the team shortly before the Steelers' first preseason game.
56. In this year's Wild Card game against the Bengals, Ward caught two passes for 10 yards and a touchdown. In 15 career games against the Bengals before that, he caught 75 passes for 974 yards and eight touchdowns.
57. Steelers fans hope that Ward plays up to the legacy of Swann in Super Bowl XL; Swann's 161 receiving yards and acrobatic catches made him the MVP of Super Bowl X (yes, it really has been thirty years). But how many fans remember the last Steelers player to score a touchdown in a Super Bowl? That's right: Bam Morris in Super Bowl XXX.
The door to the Too Deep Zone is closing for a few months. Thanks for peeking in. See you in September.
89 comments, Last at 30 Jan 2006, 7:38pm by Tom