PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have announced plans to release wide receiver Hines Ward and it’s got the city of Pittsburgh talking.
The following was posted on the Steelers website on Wednesday:
“We had a conversation today with Hines Ward and informed him that we plan to release him of his contract prior to the start of the 2012 NFL calendar year,” Steelers President Art Rooney II told the team’s website, Steelers.com. “Hines has been an integral part of our success since we drafted him in 1998 and we will forever be grateful for what he has helped us achieve. He has meant so much to this organization, both on and off the field, and we appreciate his efforts over the past 14 years. Hines’ accomplishments are numerous, and he will always be thought of as one of the all-time great Steelers. We wish him nothing but the best.”
Bill Parise, linebacker James Harrison's agent, said Ward is likely headed to the Hall of Fame, which may be incentive to hang up the cleats.
“I think he's a Hall of Famer,” said Parise. “He's a guy that deserves to be there. It was a little bit of the reality of, ‘Yeah, I'm sure that was going to happen,’ and a little bit of, ‘Oh, my God.’ You know, because he was such a great asset to the Steelers."
“What I'm hoping is that the Rooneys end up signing him anyway at the end,” said Jim Coen, the owner of Yinzer’s in the Strip District. “But it doesn't look like that. But, you know, we're going to really miss him.”
Ward was originally drafted by the Steelers in the third round of the 1998 NFL Draft out of Georgia. He spent 14 years in Pittsburgh and became the team’s all-time leader in receptions (1,000), receiving yards (12,083), receiving touchdowns (85) and 100-yard receiving games (29). Ward is the eighth player in NFL history to reach 1,000 career receptions and joined only Hall of Famer Jerry Rice as the only two players in league history to post 1,000 career catches and win multiple Super Bowls.
Ward was the MVP of Super Bowl XL after leading the Steelers to a 21-10 victory over the Seattle Seahawks. He posted a game-high 123 receiving yards on five receptions with one touchdown.
The Steelers’ 2008 Walter Payton Man of the Year, Ward was named to four Pro Bowls (2002-05) and was a member of the team’s 75th Season All-Time Team.
Ward released the following statement: "This isn't how I wanted this chapter of my career to end. I did everything in my power to remain a Steeler and finish what I started here 14 years ago. I want to thank the organization, my teammates and coaches and everyone who made my run as a Steeler the best years of my life. To Mr. Rooney, thank you for allowing me to play for one of the greatest organizations in the world. To my fans and in particular, Steeler Nation, thank you for your support and all the great memories. I gave my heart and soul for you every down and I will always bleed black and gold. I do feel that I still have more football left in me and I am looking forward to playing in the NFL, again, this upcoming season."
Other Steelers players are sending their farewells to Ward via Twitter:
Antonio Brown: Defiantly enjoyed playing with @mvp86hinesward learned a lot ! Was a great mentor for me! You define a "Steeler" Woe respect n luv !
Ryan Clark: Hines is 1 of the best football players not just WR I've ever seen. He is a true Steeler. To say he'll be missed is an under statement!
Ramon Foster: Enjoyed playing with a legend like Hines Ward, great leader and teammate. Your presence will be missed.
William Gay: Hines Ward!!!! Man please don't catch me slippin like u did Ed Reed when u go to another team
Marcus Gilbert: Hats off to @mvp86hinesward one of the best WR's in the history of the games! Thanks bro for the guidance you helped me with my rookie year!
Emmanuel Sanders: Enjoyed playing with @mvp86hinesward. I appreciate everything u taught me brotha. I'll continue to spike lee "do the right thing"! Salute!
Ike Taylor: Toughest (WR) I've seen play the game One thing we will all remember the most is his SMILE SB (40) MVP Future HOF #86 HINES WARD
LaMarr Woodley: Hines Ward is not only 1 of the best WRs ever, but also a great leader & even better friend.. fortunate i had the chance 2 play 5 yrs w/him