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Ward's fiancee, friends successfully keep party a surprise

| Sunday, Aug. 11, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
John Altdorfer
Lindsey Georgalas and Hines Ward during the Official Hines Ward Retirement Party at the Rivers Casino.
John Altdorfer
Andrew Ree, Hines Ward's agent, during the Official Hines Ward Retirement Party at the Rivers Casino.
John Altdorfer
Celina, Bob and Lisa Pompeani during the Official Hines Ward Retirement Party at the Rivers Casino.
John Altdorfer
TiAnda and Mel Blount during the Official Hines Ward Retirement Party at the Rivers Casino.
John Altdorfer
Dan Gilman and Amanda Kennedy during the Official Hines Ward Retirement Party at the Rivers Casino.
John Altdorfer
Rivers Casino vice president of human relations Andre Barnabei during the Official Hines Ward Retirement Party at the Rivers Casino.

When planning a surprise party of any kind, it's always good to know who can keep a secret.

Especially when it comes to pulling it off for one of the most beloved alumni of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“It's hard!” said Lindsey Georgalas, Hines Ward's fiancee. “We're glued at the hip, so I was stressed about it. He thinks we're here to do this autograph party.”

The “here” in the equation was the Rivers Casino, where an unsuspecting Ward thought he was engaged for a meet-and-greet Aug. 9 with Casino VIPs in the Wheelhouse. Unbeknownst to him, 200 more guests were waiting in the wings up in the banquet room, ready to pounce on No. 86 for what was being pegged as The Official Retirement Party.

“Pittsburgh was always a home away from home for him,” said Ward's manager, Andy Ree, co-conspirator with Georgalas. “He bleeds black and gold.”

Those thinking it odd that such a celebration was coming a year after his retirement were quick to reconcile with the idea once they were told that, apparently, the man had never been given a retirement party.

Better late than never.

And so it goes that, after the crowd was hushed and ready, the 10-9-8 ... countdown began, although a do-over was necessary in order to time Ward's entrance into the room so confetti guns could shoot gold streamers into the air.

And then, the moment of truth. Success.

Noticeably absent were top brass of the Steelers and many former teammates, but that familiar and iconic smile seemed to indicate that he was indeed, happy, surprised, and if nothing else, taking it all in with an effortless stride.

“It's always good to be here in Pittsburgh,” Ward said. “It's always a blessing to be able to come back to a city and get a warm reception. It makes me feel good inside.”

Spotted were Steelers alums Aaron Smith, Franco Harris (with Dana) and Mel Blount (with TiAnda); Thomas Tull, Rivers VP of Human Resources Andre Barnabei and Assistant GM Bud Green, Dan Gilman andAmanda Kennedy;Sally Wiggin;Bob, Lisa andCelina Pompeani;Alby Oxenreiter; and David Caliguiri.

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