March 2 was a day that every fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers knew was approaching over the last couple of years. Hines Ward had played a style of football for years that we all knew was going to lead to his skills diminishing quickly as he aged. It was still a surreal moment when it was announced that the Steelers had released the 14 year veteran who has never played for another team.
When he was cut, Ward acknowledged that he wanted to continue to play and was going to explore his options via free agency. A change of heart occurred on Tuesday when he announced his retirement from the NFL.
Now I am not going to be naive enough to believe that Ward just suddenly came across the notion that retiring a Steeler was the right thing to do for everyone. The fact of the matter is that he probably drew interest from very few teams. And the teams that did show interest did not offer him the money or the role that would satisfy his ego. However, there is no doubt in my mind that he loves the city of Pittsburgh. Throw all those factors together and you get the events that happened.
Now over the last few years, Ward has turned into somewhat of a punching bag for certain local media personalities and a segment of the fan base. A lot of that he did bring on himself. He was never great at disguising the fact that he was unhappy with his diminished role in the offense. A large portion of his interviews gave off the impression that he had a "me first" mentality and that is never going to sit well with Pittsburgh fans. However, perception and reality are two entirely different things. Sure it seemed like Ward was turning into the type of melodramatic wide receiver that every team seems to have. But it wasn't hurting the team. They still had success and no teammate ever had anything bad to say about him.
Despite not having any hard evidence of his disruptive attitude in the locker room, Mark Madden is one media personality that habitually bashed Ward. I'll say this much about that and I've said this about all players and not everyone loves this mindset but oh well. I do not care in the slightest what a player's personality is. I have one question as it pertains to whether or not I'm a fan. When it came to Ward that question was, are you good at catching footballs? The answer was yes. That's all I need. Madden's constant bashing of Ward was usually based around his personality. Yet, Madden loves to defend Ben Roethlisberger who's history speaks for itself.
Ultimately, the conversation now is going to be about whether or not Ward is a Hall of Famer. I hate this conversation but I'll make my argument for why he is undoubtedly a Hall of Famer. He is one of eight wide receivers who have 1,000 catches. He accumulated those catches despite playing in a run first offense for the first 10 years of his career. He also had the likes of Kent Graham, Kordell Stewart, and Tommy Maddox throwing footballs to him for half of his career. He has been to three Super Bowls, has two Super Bowl rings, and one Super Bowl MVP. He is also arguably the best blocking wide receiver ever. It is difficult for wide receivers to get into the Hall of Fame. Look at Cris Carter. Ward is definitely not a first ballot guy but he should and he will get in at some point.
Unfortunately, the announcement of Ward's retirement has triggered way more negative commentary than I hoped it ever would. Regardless of what you think of him as a guy, you have to respect his talent as a football player. If you are a Steeler fan, ask yourself where this team would have been over the past decade and a half without him. The overall sentiment should be happiness that he has retired as a Steeler regardless of the reasons for why he did it. Ask yourself, would you rather have him retire as a Steeler for possibly selfish reasons or continue to play in another jersey and diminish his legacy?