There’s no doubt from anyone that Hines Ward is being slowly phased out of the Steelers offense. No longer a starter and on pace for his lowest amount of receptions since his rookie season, there are questions swirling around Ward staying in Pittsburgh to finish out the two years left in his contract. Regardless of his long term future in Pittsburgh, his immediate one looks to reach a very significant milestone.
With all the talk of playoff seedings, Big Ben and team awards, there’s a lot of folks out there forgetting one major achievement that could happen this Sunday – Hines Ward reaching a very exclusive list.
Coming into Sunday’s game against the Rams, Ward just needed nine receptions to reach 1,000 for his career. How special that would have been for something like that to happen at home in what has been speculated as his last home game as a Steeler. ‘Do you think Hines will be around next year,’ my Dad asks as we watched him in warmups that game. Yeah, he’ll be around – if the Steelers don’t win the Super Bowl. But I suspect that he could hang the cleats up early should he get one more ring.
Ward was targeted a bunch of times by Batch against the Rams. I don’t think it was just me, but it appeared that Ward was on the field a lot more often than he had been the past few weeks. Could it be that even the Steelers coaching staff can sense the uncertainty with Hines’ place on this team? Ward caught four passes against the Rams and inched closer to that golden 1,000. That puts him five away this Sunday from making a list that only six other receivers in history have ever reached.
1. Jerry Rice – 1,549
2. Marvin Harrison – 1,102
3. Cris Carter – 1,101
4. Tim Brown – 1,094
5. Terrell Owens – 1,078
6. Isaac Bruce – 1,024
That’s the current list of the 1,000 Club. There were hopes earlier in the season (like only at the beginning) that Ward would even breach the top five. With thoughts of retirement looming and production falling off a cliff, that achievement becomes more and more uncertain.
Personally, I’m on the fence about whether Ward should get there this season or not. If he does, does that only strengthen his push to retire? If he does not, would that entice him enough to stick around for another season – and perhaps eclipse Bruce or even Owens, though Bruce would be the more realistic achievement.
I want Ward to stick around until his contract is up. I know that some think he’s ‘done’ because of the young guys coming in. One thing I pointed out to my Dad is that Ward isn’t a bad receiver or is too old to get open. The Steelers have been incredibly fortunate to have a receiving core that has become nothing less than amazing. Who would have thought that Wallace, Brown, Sanders would have been contributing so much this early on in their careers – considering the Steelers’ track record with receiving cores. Even players like Cotchery have snuck their way into the lineup and contributed in ways that only someone like Ward could have back in his prime. Ward is still a good receiver, and I think he can become a hero during games in the playoffs.
Good luck this Sunday, Ward. I hope that whatever happens over the next few months and into next season you at least hit the 1,000 milestone… as long as you come back next season. One more Super Bowl ring to add to the collection would be even better – then you can ride off into the sunset.