"the happiest man in football"... President Barack Obama
When you talk about Hines Ward, you are talking about perhaps the greatest wide receiver in Steelers' history and certainly the best blocking wide receiver in NFL history. If you have any doubts, let's go over his accomplishments: he owns every receiving record in franchise history, he is a 2-time Super Bowl Champion, the MVP of Super Bowl XL, a 4-time Pro Bowler, all-time team leader in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns, he is the only receiver in Steeler history to surpass 1,000 receiving yards for four straight seasons, and was named to the Steelers' 75th Season All-Time Team, to name just a few. To top it all off, on New Years day 2012, Hines became only the 8th player in NFL history to reach 1000 career receptions on what would be his last catch ever as a Pittsburgh Steeler.
In case you are wondering about the man off the field, Hines Ward has been equally impressive. He is a man of character in his community both locally and worldwide. He was named the Steelers' "2008 Walter Payton Man of the Year." Other recognitions Ward has received include being featured as ABC's "Person of the Week," meeting and befriending four world leaders -- two U.S. Presidents and two Korean Presidents, founding and driving his Helping Hands Foundations both in the U.S. and Korea, being an active participant with numerous other foundations including The Caring Foundation, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and Pearl S. Buck International. Ward has also started his own after school education program for kids in his home state of Georgia. He has been featured on the cover of numerous publications such as Newsweek, Time Magazine, Esquire, Sports Illustrated, Moves Magazine, and Whirl, and was featured as one of GQ's 2009 "Men of the Year." On May 24, 2011, dance-stepping far outside his comfort zone, Hines, along with his partner Kym Johnson, won season 12 of ABC's hit dance competition "Dancing with the Stars", bringing home the Mirror Ball Trophy to Steeler Nation. Ward appeared as guest correspondent for the NFL Network's Rich Eisen Podcast at the 84th annual Academy Awards, catching up with the likes of George Clooney on the Red Carpet, and debuted as a member of the fictional Gotham Rogues football team in the Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises."
Tough. Confident. Passionate. Intense. Uncompromising. Persistent. All these words apply when you talk about Hines Ward, particularly when it comes to the game of football and life in general. Nobody in the game is as willing to sacrifice himself and do all it takes to win a football game, and nobody plays the game or enjoys life with more unbridled joy. Pure and simple, Hines Ward is special.
Born on March 8, 1976 in Seoul, South Korea to a Korean mother and an African American father, Hines E. Ward Jr.'s journey to the NFL was far from typical, and more a blueprint for overachievement. Moving to the Atlanta area when Ward was just 1 year old, he was raised by his single mom, Young-He Ward, who eventually managed to provide for her son despite coming to the US without any friends and not knowing English. Over time, Ward began to appreciate the sacrifices Young-He made for him and the determination she had to make a life for them. He took that sense of sacrifice and determination and embodied that in his heart and soul.
Ward became a top scholar-athlete in Georgia, not only as quarterback on the gridiron at Forest Park High School earning numerous all-county and all-American honors, but also on the baseball diamond. He was even drafted at the end of his senior year by the Florida Marlins, who offered a $25,000 bonus to sign. But Ward chose to pursue his first love, going on to play college football for his hometown Georgia Bulldogs.
True to his nature, Ward proved he would do anything to get playing time at Georgia. Though recruited as a quarterback, Ward was so successful with spot roles at tailback (for an injured Terrell Davis) and at wideout (volunteering in his sophomore year to join a weak receiving corps), he eventually stopped practicing with the quarterbacks altogether. Whatever Ward was asked or volunteered to do, he gave his all and helped the team. When temporarily pressed back to the quarterback position in his second year when starter Mike Bobo was injured, Ward was able to make valuable contributions to the Bulldogs, even getting the nod as the staring QB in the Peach Bowl that year where he still holds the records for the most passing yards.
By his junior year however, Ward was finally made a full-time receiver by the replacement of Ray Goff, the coach of the Georgia Bulldogs, with Jim Donnan. Part of the reason for that commitment on Donnan's part was because of the fact that Ward was the first player to come to see him when he took over the helm, and in that first conversation with his new coach, Ward told Donnan that he would do whatever it took to help the Bulldogs. As a receiver, Ward shined in many ways, developing an uncanny sense for getting separation on his routes and using his quick feet to make up for what he lacked in speed and size. At the end of his senior year he was bestowed All-SEC honors and finished his college career as Georgia's second all-time receiver with 144 receptions. His total yards of 3,870 ranked second in Bulldogs history to Herschel Walker.
Worried that his varied college career might hinder his entry as a top pick in the 1998 NFL draft, Ward was dealt another blow to his hopes when a pre-draft physical revealed he was missing an ACL in his left knee, the result of a childhood bicycle accident. Relieved when the Pittsburgh Steelers finally took him in the 3rd round as the 92nd pick overall, Ward made it his mission to let the Steelers know they made a great choice and to make the other teams sorry that they had passed him up. Used at first on special teams by Coach Bill Cower, the epitome of doing anything to help the team, it soon became clear that Ward played the game of football with unmatched intensity. As Ward eventually worked his way into the Steelers receiving corps, it also became clear that he could be depended on to get open and make the big catch, but beyond that he NEVER took a down off, and without the ball he blocked with the ferocity of an offensive lineman. The rest, as they say, is history - Steelers history that is, including:
Perhaps former Steelers offensive coordinator and current Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt put it best in describing Ward's Super Bowl XL MVP performance:
In his own words, Ward, speaking of his desire to close out his career as a Steeler, sums up what he is all about:
On the upper right arm of Hines E. Ward, Jr. is a tattoo of Mighty Mouse in the Heisman pose - the perfect overachiever symbol for the ultimate overachiever - a smiling overachiever at that. That tattoo not only speaks to the joy and passion Ward has for the game of football, it also speaks to his passion for helping others. Though he makes no claim to being a super hero, that same tattooed arm that is perfectly capable of delivering a crushing block on an opposing player is also capable of cradling his young son Jaden and reaching out to children in need.
In 2006, Ward returned to South Korea for the first time since he moved to the US, and spent 2 months there on a mission to use his celebrity status to encourage social and political reform in the country, focusing on the discrimination that mixed-racial children endure there. On his final day in South Korea, he donated $1 million to create the Hines Ward Helping Hands Foundation to further that cause. His message to those children was:
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The Helping Hands Foundation mission is to provide educational programs to help children build confidence and maintain a work ethic that will provide them the tools to succeed in life.
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