Monday, November 28, 2022

Steelers legend Hines Ward takes the next step towards Rare NFL Feat

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Could seventh time be a charm for Pittsburgh Steelers legend Hines Ward? That’s how many times the former receiver has made it to the semifinal round of the NFL Hall of Fame process.

Ward, 46, spent his entire 14-year career in Black & Gold. For much of that span, Ward was considered the NFL’s most complete receiver and revered for his toughness. He was afraid of nothing and smiled in the defenders’ faces after every tackle.

It’s hard to believe that Ward has spent almost half his career at the helm of the Steelers with the likes of Kent Graham, Mike Tomczak, Kordell Stewart and Tommy Maddox. Ben Roethlisberger only joined in his sixth season.

Ward was a four-time Pro Bowler (three before Ben Roethlisberger), played in three Super Bowls, and was named Super Bowl 43 MVP. With an impressive career (stats listed below), it’s a wonder he’s not already in the Hall of Fame.

Mark Kaboly, who covers the Pittsburgh Steelers for The Athletic, tweetedformer #Steeler WR Hines Ward is a Pro Football Hall of Fame semifinalist. I think Ward should be there if Andre Reed is there. The numbers are almost identical except for SB wins, SB MVP and of course Ward’s blocking.”

As one of 20 wide receiver nominees, Ward has some stiff competition, notably Anquan Boldin, Troy Brown, Torry Holt, Chad Johnson, Joe Horn, Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne, Steve Smith Sr. and Roddy White. Historically, a maximum of two recipients have been accepted in each class, although there have been years when none were selected.

Your guess is as good as mine as to whether Ward will make it to Canton in 2023. It took legends Cris Carter, Tim Brown, Isaac Bruce and Terrell Owens multiple rounds of finalists to be selected for the anchor. Ward hasn’t made it to the finals yet, which is unfortunate given the already fewer players in the Hall of Fame.

Perhaps Ward will finally get his gold jacket when Ben Roethlisberger is inducted in 2027. Wouldn’t that be something? But that’s too long for a talent so deserved to wait.

Pittsburgh Steelers teammate Hines Ward James Harrison is also an NFL Hall of Fame finalist in his first year of eligibility.

Surprisingly, Harrison didn’t become a starter until he was 29 years old. Released from Kent State University in 2002, he served four different stints with the Steelers. He was signed to the Steelers practice team but was eliminated after one game before moving on to the rival Baltimore Ravens and then NFL Europe’s Rhein Fire.

Harrison, now 44, returned to Pittsburgh in 2004 and eventually became a starter, appearing in 177 games (107 starts). His laundry list of Steelers stats includes: 86 interceptions, eight total touchdowns, 33 forced fumbles, and 772 tackles (122 for losses). Currently, Harrison’s is the all-time sack leader with 80.5, Harrison’s single-season sack record (16 in 2008) broken by TJ Watt in 2021. Harrison congratulated Watt as he did. At 73.5, it won’t be long before Watt surpasses Harrison for all-time franchise sacks.

Harrison has tremendous credentials thanks to those stats: a five-time Pro Bowler, two-time First-Team All-Pro, and 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Bonus points are for Harrisons’ 100-yard interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl 43. The game, dubbed the “Flawless Interception,” remains the longest touchdown in Super Bowl history.

It’s tough getting inducted into the first-ballot Hall of Famers, so Deebo may have to wait a year or two.

The list of 129 modern era finalists was announced in September. Fifteen modern era finalists will be featured in January and the shrines in February. The Class of 2023 of the Pro Football Hall of Fame will be enshrined in August 2023.

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