He rose to national prominence as the winner of Dancing with the Stars, but now Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward is performing the greatest dance of his career as he dances through dealing with his changing role on the team and the media's endless quest to make it a major story.
In many ways, just the fact that Ward is still in the conversation 14 seasons after entering the NFL is a testament to his character and perseverence. Many wide receivers have come and gone into the league during Ward's career. Most were faster, some were more athletic, and some had more natural skills. However, for what these players may have had over Ward, I would say that most of them did not have his heart.
As I write this, he is 15 catches away from 1,000 career receptions, 9 yards away from 12,000 career receiving yards (only 19 players in NFL history have at least 12,000 yards), he has played in three Super Bowls, is a two-time Super Bowl champion and was the most valuable player of Super Bowl 40.
Now, as Ward sambas into the twilight of his hall of fame career, he finds himself taking a seat more to the younger players around him. The Steelers have tremendous depth at the wide receiver position, and it appears the coaching staff feels that some of the younger guys may give them better opportunities to help the team. Now, the man who embodied the toughness and spirit of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who showed the nation he could samba and do the pasodoble as well as catch a touchdown pass, has been on the sidelines more, watching, instead of playing.
In typical Hines Ward fashion, he has refused to make it an issue publicly. When asked about his changing role Ward said, "I just try to go out and bust my tail and continue being the same player. I think you guys wanted it to be about me, but it's not about me. I'm a team guy."
He continues to prepare just as he has done for 14 seasons, continues to mentor and coach the receivers on the team~yes, the same receivers that have taken away some of his playing time, if he is not on the field he continues to be the "biggest cheerleader", and off the field he continues to make sure that the focus is on the team and not himself.
In short, Hines Ward continues to show all of us what a true champion really looks like. That's why, though others may be trying to write his football obituary, I'm not ready to count him out, just yet.
After all, did you think he could actually dance the tango?
(Author's note: After this blog was originally written, Hines became the 8th player in NFL history to have 1,000 catches. Congratulations Hines!)