PITTSBURGH - Longtime Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward retired on Tuesday rather than try extending his career with another team.
The decision comes three weeks after Ward was released by the Steelers in a salary cap maneuver. The 36-year-old Ward is the franchise's all-time leader in every major receiving category, including receptions, yards and touchdowns.
Ward said following his release he believed he "still had some football in him," but changed his mind.
"The city and this organization means the world to me," Ward said through tears. "Today, I came back to Pittsburgh to grant Steeler Nation this one last request. So today, I'm officially retiring as a Pittsburgh Steeler. And as much as I will miss football, my teammates, the coaches and everything about the game, I don't want to play it in any other uniform. The Black-and-Gold runs deep in me, and I will remain a Steeler for life."
Ward said support from fans across the country influenced his decision.
"I was moved by the tremendous outpouring of love, encouragement and support from everyone from everywhere," Ward said. "I am truly blessed. I have accomplished all that I set out to and more."
Former teammates Jerome Bettis, James Harrison, Brett Keisel and Aaron Smith were on hand for Ward's announcement, as well as Steelers president Art Rooney, chairman Dan Rooney, general manager Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin.
Bettis said he spoke to Ward about his retirement and what it would mean to leave the NFL as a Pittsburgh Steeler.
"The last conversation we had was about his legacy and leaving the legacy that he built in tact knowing that he's better served having played with the Steelers his entire career and not going on to another team, because I think that would have tainted his legacy," Bettis said.
Fans said they'll miss Ward's passion for the game and his big smile, but they're glad he'll forever be known as a Pittsburgh Steeler. "I'm glad he's retiring as a Steeler and he didn't go to another team like Franco because just like Lebron, I think I'd have to burn my Hines Ward jersey," said one fan. "He'll never be forgotten because of how much heart he had and how much he brought to Steeler nation," said another fan.
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 also 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 saw his playing time decrease last season behind Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown. Ward finished with just 46 receptions, the fewest since his rookie year in 1998.