Post-Steelers, Hines Ward stirs lots of pots

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For Hines Ward, the route to a post-football career has taken some pretty diverse turns.

Already a "Dancing With the Stars" champion, Mr. Ward has filled the months since his retirement from the Pittsburgh Steelers in March with a hefty slate of work.

His first choice was a common one for former pro athletes: doing commentary for NBC Sports in various capacities. Pittsburgh affiliate WPXI-TV gave him "The Hines Ward Show," a weekly potpourri of football analysis and interviews.

He's also involved in Positive Athlete Pittsburgh, an organization that emphasizes bringing out the best in youth.

But he also showed up as a Gotham City Rogue when "The Dark Knight Rises" was released last summer -- he has his own movie action figure, wearing his signature number, 86 -- and filmed a bit as a zombie for AMC's hit television series "The Walking Dead."

Mr. Ward returns to his athletic roots next month, when he begins training with two contest-winners in the "REFUEL/got chocolate milk?" challenge, "Become One."

They'll be working toward competing in the Oct. 12 Ironman world championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

"You know me, I'm just trying to be an all-American, all-Renaissance guy," Mr. Ward said.

Sunday, at 9 p.m. he debuts on Food Network's "Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off," possibly the biggest fish-out-of-water scenario yet. Eight celebs compete on two teams mentored by Rachael Ray and Guy Fieri over six episodes, with the weakest links eliminated each week.

Last chef standing wins $50,000 for his or her charity. Unlike "Dancing With The Stars," in which viewers chose their favorites, "Rachael vs. Guy" was taped months ago and the outcome is based on judges' opinion.

"I wish I could get some votes for this one, but this is me, by myself," he said, laughing.

He will be part of Team Rachael, with actors/comedians Gilbert Gottfried and Kathy Najimy and singer Carnie Wilson. Team Guy is former TLC member Chilli, socialite/designer Cornelia Guest, Dean McDermott and Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir. The latter two have starred in their own reality shows.

"I have always been one of those guys that says 'Why not?' and just go out and do it," Mr. Ward said. "I'm still competitive, and there are so many things I want to do."

As a rookie with the Steelers, he was a frequent visitor to the usual fast-food hangouts. Boredom and a suspicion that there had to be a healthier way to eat led to buying a skillet.

"A lot of smoke alarms went off, and I burned up a lot of pans," he said.

In this case, the eggs came first, followed by onions and peppers. The chicken came later, as he worked his way up to entrees.

"I make some nice chicken wings, a nice steak. I'm perfecting my sea bass, doing vegetables, trying to work on healthy things," he said.

Knowing the basics helped, but when the show taped, occasionally he found himself on shaky ground: "There were plenty of times when they asked me to go get some spices ... and I think that was the first time I ever heard of cilantro.

"That's just a part of cooking, and along with the cast members I had on my team, I've learned so much about the kitchen utensils, the food processor, the blender, all the stuff that comes along with the kitchen."

A photo released earlier that ran in the Post-Gazette showed Mr. Hines and his team captain discussing some point of food prep. In it, he is wearing a bright pink hair net, perched on the crown of his shaved head like some sort of sea sponge.

"Just the rules of working in a kitchen," he said, noting that despite his lack of hair, he once appeared in a shampoo commercial.

He said the bubbly Ms. Ray, who has hosted her own cooking/talk shows for years, encouraged her team to embrace the lighter side of competition.

"I had a blast and I learned so much," he said.

"Hines is very competitive, and he wants to be the best at what he does," said Alby Oxenreiter, director of sports at WPXI-TV, which produces "The Hines Ward Show."

"There are certain qualities that you can't teach, and he has those. He has a smile that lights up a room, and he has a way of opening up to the camera not many people have," said Mr. Oxenreiter, who co-hosts "The Hines Ward Show."

"Charisma cannot be taught, and on top of all that, he has this work ethic where he wants to just work and learn."

The fact that some of his Food Network teammates appeared to be more accomplished ("Carnie has her own cookbook!" he said) only made him want to work harder.

"I was so focused at the task at hand," he said. "I give it 110 percent and I'm a perfectionist. I wanted it to be perfect. I wanted to impress everybody."

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Maria Sciullo: or 412-263-1478 or @MariaSciulloPG.


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