To paraphrase late Pirates broadcaster Bob Prince, he had 'em all the way.
Baseball isn't Hines Ward's sport, but then, until recently, neither was ballroom dancing. That all changed Tuesday night, when he finally got to hoist the sparkly "Dancing With the Stars" Mirrorball Trophy amid a rain of confetti.
"I think you are the MVP of 'Dancing With the Stars' season 12," judge Carrie Ann Inaba said.
Mr. Ward, 35, and professional dance partner Kym Johnson did indeed stay at or near the top of the pack all season long in the ABC reality competition. Consistent through more than 10 weeks of cha-cha-cha, quickstep, samba, jive and a whole dance card of formerly mystifying steps, the Steelers wide receiver consistently impressed the judges, the home audience and perhaps most important, Steelers Nation.
Casting votes though land lines, cell phones and computers, they helped Mr. Ward become the first football player since Dallas running back Emmitt Smith to win.
Runner-up was actress Kirstie Alley, who proved that being 60 and overweight was not going to slow her down. She and partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy finished with 54 of 60 judges points on the Monday performance show; the other two teams scored 59 for their two-dance efforts.
Finishing third was Disney star Chelsea Kane and partner Mark Ballas, who were tied with Mr. Ward and Ms. Johnson in judges points late in the season.
There was concern in the Pittsburgh area Monday when some viewers reported they could not get through on the telephone to vote for Mr. Ward. There was no immediate response from ABC.
Win or lose, Ms. Johnson said in her OK! Magazine online blog yesterday, "I couldn't have wished for a better partner. Hines has just been amazing, he really is such a lovely person."
Although it took less than two minutes to announce the winners, the two-hour results show predictably was stuffed with everything but an appearance by Donald Trump: the Black-Eyed Peas performed, as did country star Sara Evans, the Go-Go's and previously eliminated celebrities such as Ralph Macchio, Petra Nemcova and Romeo.
Josh Groban even put in a surprise appearance and professional wrestler Chris Jericho did his impression of judge Bruno Tonioli, although former Playboy housemate Kendra Wilkinson in a bright yellow bra shooting sparks might have been a bigger attention-getter.
Black-Eyed Peas' Fergie was especially well-dressed for the occasion in a silver dress that mirrored that Mirrorball Trophy in singing "Don't Stop The Party."
Talk show host Wendy Williams, who was eliminated early in the season, told host Tom Bergeron that at first she was convinced Mr. Ward would win but then realized "I can't decide!"
"It's like ballroom diplomacy just sort of envelops you when you walk in here," joked Mr. Bergeron, to which she replied "It's just feels good to be here and not be judged."
The finalists later hit the floor one last time for a dance to "round up" the judges' scores. Each couple chose a routine from earlier in the season. Mr. Ward and Ms. Johnson picked their Week 3 samba to Earth, Wind & Fire's "Fantasy," a tribute to Mr. Ward's mother, Kim Young-Hee, who was in the audience.
What a long, strange journey it has been for Mr. Ward, who agreed to join the program despite having his knee scoped shortly after the football season ended in early February. With no previous dance experience -- he happily conceded he had never danced "a lick" before DWTS -- he came out week after week and impressed everyone with decent technique, good hip action and a big smile.
"We've had some good footballers on 'Dancing With The Stars.' I don't think any compare with Hines Ward," judge Len Goodman said.
"He really is like a ray of sunshine when he enters the arena; everybody loves him," Mr. Tonioli said.
In Ms. Johnson, he found a partner who professed to turning big football players into refined dancers. She previously paired with former NFL star Warren Sapp and finished second that season. Despite suffering a neck injury in rehearsal this past Friday the 13th, she bounced back to score perfect 10s with Mr. Ward in the semifinals.
In a taped recap of the various adversities contestants faced this season, a replay of Ms. Johnson's injury, which was aired twice on the show three days after it happened, was blurred last night.
Although they're no longer dancing partners, look for Ms. Johnson in Pittsburgh some time this fall -- she plans to attend a Steelers game at Heinz Field no matter how long it takes to get the season rolling.
Maria Sciullo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1478. First Published May 25, 2011 4:00 AM