Thursday, May 26, 2011

Hines Ward: Will the Steelers Wide Receiver Dance His Way to the Hall of Fame?

Hines Ward’s mantel is noticeably full these days. He has been to four Pro Bowls, a significant contributor on two Super Bowl championship teams (winning the Most Valuable Player award for SB 40), the all time team leader in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns and most recently, Dancing with the Star's Champion. With that mantel being complete, will the Pro Football Hall of Fame have a space reserved for his bust?

Ward’s career is an interesting debate when the Hall of Fame topic is in question. He has always been known as a “really good” receiver who does all the little things exceptionally well. Statistically, Hines Ward is notably underrated.

In 13 seasons as a pro: 954 receptions, 11,702 receiving yards and 83 touchdowns.

Ward is 8th all-time in receptions and is only 46 away from 1,000 for his career. His 11,702 receiving yards puts him 21st all-time. If he would gain 1,500 more yards for his career (a logical prediction if he plays two more seasons), then Ward would be around 11th or 12th all-time in yards. His 83 touchdowns currently have him tied for 15th in the league’s history. 10 more receptions that find pay dirt would have Ward sitting easily in the top 10.

Ward’s stability never can be questioned. In actuality, it has not been matched in the NFL over the last 10 years. Hines has the most receptions in the league since 2000. Yes, more receptions than players who the average fan might believe have a bigger name. (Notice no Terrell Owens, Chad Ochocinco, Marvin Harrison or Randy Moss)

  1. Hines Ward: 830
  2. Derrick Mason: 814
  3. Tony Gonzalez: 808
  4. Reggie Wayne: 787
  5. Torry Holt: 786

These are pretty gaudy numbers for a player that has never been known for statistics.

His excellence in the postseason is what separates Hines from other great receivers of his era. Specifically, it separates him from the players that have better regular season stats. Those player’s resumes do not extend much further than December, Ward’s clearly does.

Here are some postseason comparisons. Some players have excelled in the postseason while other all pro players have not. Very few in this era have had better playoff performances than Ward.

Hines Ward: 17 games, 88 receptions, 1,181 yards, 10 touchdowns and five 100 yard games to go with one SB MVP

Marvin Harrison: 16 games, 65 receptions, 883 yards, two touchdowns and one 100 yard game

Rod Smith: 12 games, 49 receptions, 860 yards, six touchdowns and one 100 yard game.

Cris Carter: 14 games, 63 receptions, 870 yards, eight touchdowns and two 100 yard games.

Jimmy Smith: nine games, 40 receptions, 647 yards, seven touchdowns and two 100 yard games.

Derrick Mason: 16 games, 49 receptions, 601 yards, two touchdowns and zero 100 yard games.

Randy Moss: 12 games, 47 receptions, 865 yards, 10 touchdowns and three 100 yard games.

Terrell Owens: 11 games, 54 receptions, 751 yards, five touchdowns and three 100 yard games.

Playoff performances are only one indicator when evaluating a potential Hall of Fame resume. In certain cases, players are stuck on average teams that do not make the postseason often. The great Hall of Famer, Steve Largent, only played in four postseasons in his 14 years in the league.

Another piece of criteria is whether or not the player in question left a lasting impact on the game. Hines Ward has laid devastating hits on opposing players, not to mention professional football in general.

Along with his longevity, consistency and knack for performing when the lights shine brightest, Ward’s blocking abilities are astounding. It is not debatable; Ward is one of the greatest blocking wide receivers to ever lace up a pair of cleats. Playing in a run first system under Bill Cowher early in his career, Ward’s blocking was an added bonus to the clock controlling style Cowher emphasized.

In recent years, the NFL has adopted the “Hines Ward rule.” This was one example of the league trying to make their product safer by cutting down on crack back blocks and thus preventing a broken jaw or two at expense of Hines Ward’s shoulder. There is no doubt that Ward left his impression on the game.

Great regular season numbers, outstanding postseason accolades and changing the game is still not enough. This is the Hall of Fame and not the Hall of Very Good. Many people believe that in order to be a HOF’er, that particular player must have been one of the best in the game for an extended period of time.

This notion is why a percentage of people believe Ward should not get in. Was 86 ever a top five player at his position? Many outsiders that did not watch Ward personally might say no. Members of the Pro Football Writers Association certainly believe he was. For a three-year period (2002-2004), Ward was a second-team All-Pro selection.

During that three year stretch, Ward was considered a top 4 player at his position. He also was going through a quarterback transition, with the incoming quarterback at the helm being a rookie in 2004.

During those three seasons, Ward compiled 3496 yards and 26 touchdowns. Those certainly are not Jerry Rice prime numbers or Randy “I’m deciding to play” Moss numbers, but those statistics are among the elite for that time frame. In fact, Marvin Harrison and Terrell Owens were two of the three wide receivers that received a Pro Bowl honor all three of those seasons. Hines Ward was the third.

In the era of free agency, it is safe to assume that Ward will retire only playing for one team. The Pittsburgh Steelers are an organization that understands that the NFL is certainly a business. That is why successful veterans have been cut or not resigned, such as Joey Porter and Alan Fanaca.

The front office still believes that Ward, 34 years old, still gives this team positive and legitimate contributions. A career that has is approaching a decade and a half, all with one organization, says a lot about Ward’s reliability, loyalty and leadership qualities.

The Dancing with the Stars champion’s uniqueness as a wide out also needs to be taken into consideration. This is not just about blocking either. In today’s NFL, wide receivers are often specialized. Many current receivers can only run deep routes or play in the slot or only catch it underneath.

Ward has proven over his career that he could play the slot or split end. He has made a living with crossing routes across the middle, but continues to make plays twenty yards down field along the sideline. He is willing to take a screen pass and make the most of it or look like a tight end taking out a linebacker.

The foreign born player always found a way to get his hands on the ball and he did it without being a primadonna. During one, long stretch of his career, Hines caught at least one pass in 186 consecutive games. That number stretches over eleven straight seasons.

Ward was never pretty; in fact a lot of critics claim he was dirty. Whether or not that is the case, he has made a serious push for Canton, Ohio. No. 86 has the regular season numbers. He most certainly has the postseason statistics. He changed the game.

His leadership qualities are more than worth mentioning and his diversity and multidimensional talents as wide receiver cannot be questioned. Lastly, he holds the record for every receiving category in Pittsburgh Steelers’ history.

Ward will not be a first ballot Hall of Famer, but he will eventually get in. When that day comes, it will be well deserved. Until then, maybe Ward can do a little research and find out if there is a dancing hall of fame as well.

Lil Kim Kelly Ripa Yvonne Strzechowski Rhona Mitra Kelly Rowland

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