77th Dapper Dan Dinner: Ward wrapped up a lifetime of achievements

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Of all the words that are used to describe lifetime achievement award recipients, youth might be the strangest.

And it's stranger still when considering all that Hines Ward has accomplished by age 36.

Ward owns Steelers records in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. He won two Super Bowl titles with the Steelers and was named MVP of Super Bowl XL. He earned four trips to the Pro Bowl.

And if all that wasn't enough, he won a reality TV competition, "Dancing with the Stars," in 2011.

Ward on Wednesday accepted the Dapper Dan Lifetime Achievement Award, becoming the youngest person -- by far -- to do so.

"My life is just beginning now," he said. "I'm starting the second chapter of my life. To be up here, I'm honored. I'm not even sure I'm worthy of it, but I will do my best to live up to it."

Ward was recognized alongside Andrew McCutchen, Sportsman of the Year; Penn State soccer star Taylor Schram, Sportswoman of the Year; and Jimmie Sacco, the Freddie Fu Sports Leadership Award; at the 77th Annual Dapper Dan Dinner & Sports Auction, presented by BNY Mellon, Wednesday at David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

"He always was hungry," Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown said. "He was never satisfied."

Ward spoke for more than 20 minutes, telling stories about his multiracial childhood in Georgia, his frustrations as a young receiver in a run-heavy offense, his career highlights and even his run on "Dancing with the Stars."

"I even did a Head and Shoulders commercial, and I don't even have hair on my head," he said.

He thanked Steelers fans, his family, the Rooney family, his coaches and his teammates for helping to make him the person and player he is today.

"I'm still striving to do bigger and better things, and I hope my mother is proud of her baby boy tonight," Ward said, fighting off tears as he finished his speech.

Proceeds from the dinner, which included a sports auction, benefited the Western Pennsylvania Boys and Girls Club.

The event also featured a return of former Steelers coach Bill Cowher, in town to introduce his former receiver. While he spoke glowingly of Ward, he also used the opportunity to thank the team and the town that took a chance on him in 1992 when he was named the Steelers coach. He thanked Dan Rooney and Art Rooney II and wished luck to his successor, Mike Tomlin.

"Mike, you took it and ran with it," Cowher said. "You're doing a hell of a job. Keep it up."

McCutchen, 26, won a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger award in 2012, finished third in MVP voting and led the National League in hits with 194. He finished with career highs in hits, batting average, runs, RBIs, home runs and total bases.

"When your best player is your hardest worker, it makes a manager's job and a coach's job easy, in a job that's never easy," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, one of dozens of Pittsburgh sports dignitaries on the dais.

Before the 2012 season, McCutchen signed a six-year, $51.5 million contract with a club option that could keep him in Pittsburgh through 2018. And when emcee Bill Hillgrove introduced McCutchen and mentioned he will be prowling center field for several more years, the crowd of about 1,000 people erupted in cheers and applause.

He joked he knew he started to make a name for himself in Pittsburgh when he could walk around town and not be confused for NFL wide receiver and Pitt graduate Larry Fitzgerald -- then he credited teammate and Pittsburgh native Neil Walker for feeding him the line.

"This has been a crazy offseason for me with a lot of awards and honors, and even a video game cover for me, which was pretty cool," he said. "This only provides motivation for me going forward. It gives me a hunger to win."

Schram, a Canon-McMillan High School graduate, recovered from a late 2011 concussion to participate in the Under 20 Women's World Cup, which the United States won, and helped lead Penn State to a berth in the women's College Cup and national championship game.

"From the concussion, to the World Cup, to the College Cup, this year has been memorable," she said.

Schram, 20, a junior, scored the only Penn State goal in a 4-1 loss to North Carolina in the title game. She is the first soccer player to be named Sportswoman of the Year.

"We put Penn State back on the map, another experience of a lifetime," she said.

Sacco, executive director of stadium management at Heinz Field, began working in the Pittsburgh sports industry as an usher at Civic Arena when he was a teenager. Born and raised in Pittsburgh, he has worked with all three professional sports teams in the city.

"A kid growing up in Brookline, this is only a dream to be affiliated with these great organizations," Sacco said.

To win such an award in his hometown is "beyond my wildest dreams."

"My life is just beginning. I'm starting the second chapter ..."

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Michael Sanserino: msanserino@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1722 and Twitter: @msanserino. First Published February 7, 2013 5:15 AM


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