Ward closing in on more Steelers records
For a guy who was supposed to be another Slash when the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted him in 1998, Hines Ward has been more than a reasonable facsimile of John Stallworth and Lynn Swann.
Fittingly, the two Hall of Fame receivers known for their playmaking ability in four Steelers Super Bowl victories will be in the stands Monday night when the Steelers (5-2) play the Baltimore Ravens (4-3) in a key AFC North game.
Because of Ward, Stallworth and Swann are finding their names less and less often in the Steelers' record book.
Ward's two touchdown catches during a 24-13 victory Sunday in Cincinnati gave him 61 for his career, two short of Stallworth's team-record 63. Ward also needs 445 yards to break Stallworth's club record of 8,723 yards receiving in a career.
"Looking back, it is a great feeling to have my name up there with players like Swann and Stallworth," Ward said. "To have the Steelers record for most TDs would be a huge accomplishment for me. I would have never dreamed that when I was drafted, and now I'm coming up on my 10th season."
Ward, the only four-time Pro Bowl receiver in team history, already owns Steelers records for career receptions (672) and single-season receptions (112 in 2002). About the only receiving records Ward may not get are for catches in a game (14, Courtney Hawkins, one more than Ward's best) and receiving yards in a season (1,398 by Yancey Thigpen, or 69 yards more than Ward's best season).
This is the same receiver who lacks Stallworth's innate ability to get open deep and make game-turning catches• (See Steelers 31, Rams 19 in the January 1980 Super Bowl). The same receiver who lacks Swann's skill for turning certain incompletions into remarkable catches• (See Steelers 21, Cowboys 17 in the January 1976 Super Bowl).
"I mean, I never thought I'd have my name mentioned along with those guys," Ward said. "I've worked my rear end off my whole career to get my name up there with their names."
Especially considering Ward wasn't envisioned as a full-time receiver when the Steelers drafted him with the second of their two third-round choices in 1998.
Ward played quarterback and wide receiver at Georgia and ran the ball frequently. It was much the same role Kordell Stewart filled in his first two Steelers seasons before becoming a full-time quarterback in 1997.
Ward was initially talked about as a Slash II -- a quarterback-slash-receiver-slash-running back -- and he lined up under center a few times early in his career. His versatility was the primary reason the Steelers drafted him.
"What's exciting for me is all the things we can do with Kordell Stewart and Hines Ward in the lineup at the same time," former coach Bill Cowher said in April 1998.
That thinking soon changed when the Steelers saw how intense and physical Ward was on the practice field. He willingly played special teams early in his career and became known for his big hits.
His physical style carried over to the offense when he became a starter in 1999 and he soon earned the reputation for being the NFL's best blocking receiver.
Ward also began showing up on lists of the league's dirtiest players, mostly because opposing defensive backs weren't accustomed to being pushed around by a receiver who blocked with the relentlessness of a tight end.
"He is a tremendous professional and a tremendous competitor," coach Mike Tomlin said of Ward, who was voted last week as one of the three receivers on the 33-man Steelers all-time team.
Like Swann and Stallworth, who will be recognized Monday for being voted by fans onto the all-time team, Ward has been at his best in big games.
Ward was the MVP when the Steelers won their first Super Bowl in 26 years in February 2006, and he has 57 catches and eight touchdowns in 10 career postseason games. He has caught at least one TD pass in seven of his last eight playoff games.
Ward missed two games earlier this season with as knee injury, but he has 15 receptions and two touchdowns in two games since returning. He barely missed a third touchdown Sunday when he came up inches short of the goal line on a 9-yard catch.
"I'm going to get on him about that, he should have had three touchdowns," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "When we get in the red zone, he's the guy you always look for."
With two more scoring catches, the man who was supposed to be another Slash won't need any asterisks beside his name. Ward will own the Steelers career receiving touchdowns record by himself.
"Can you believe it?" Ward said.