Mark Ashman, The Walt Disney Company
"I remember people always comparing me to Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. But something that I didn't have that they had was a Super Bowl ring. And I kind of think they made a name for themselves in the Super Bowl. So, me winning this honor, I kind of feel like I'm in their class now." -- Hines Ward
DETROIT -- The teenager who had the image of a smiling Mickey Mouse tattooed on his right biceps, in a Heisman Trophy pose, went to Disney World yesterday as a grown-up and member of an exclusive fraternity: Super Bowl MVP.
Hines Ward said early yesterday morning before he left for Orlando that he was speechless but most know that's not possible.
"I remember people always comparing me to Lynn Swann and John Stallworth," Ward said of the Steelers' Super Bowl receivers and Hall of Famers. "But something that I didn't have that they had was a Super Bowl ring. And I kind of think they made a name for themselves in the Super Bowl.
"So, me winning this honor, I kind of feel like I'm in their class now."
Ward did not make the Pro Bowl for the first time in five seasons, so he did something better. He helped the Steelers gain their first Super Bowl victory in 26 years and matched Swann by taking home the game's MVP in the process. He caught five passes for 123 yards, one touchdown and ran one time for 18 yards to help lift the Steelers to a 21-10 victory against Seattle.
Yesterday morning, at the MVP news conference, he was given a choice of vehicle options by Cadillac for his MVP reward.
"Just one?" Ward joked before he chose a black 2007 Escalade, then held up the keys to the SUV and jingled them.
Long before that, Ward became physically ill because he was so nervous before kickoff when most of the previous Super Bowls MVPs were introduced at Ford Field, including a linebacker from the Baltimore Ravens.
"I got so sick before the pregame. I asked Ray Lewis, 'Man, is it all right for me to be nervous like this?' And he looked over and said, 'Man, all the great ones do, so just go out and play.' "
Ward took Lewis' advice and headed off the field.
"I ran back in the locker room. I was still a little light-headed and I excused myself to the bathroom and had to take care of that. That's how nervous I was playing in the Super Bowl."
Yesterday morning he looked more like a kid at Disney World, even before he and pal Jerome Bettis flew to Orlando.
"We were actually practicing the 'I'm going to Disney World.' I never thought I'd be Super Bowl MVP.
"But the Mickey Mouse tattoo came about because of who I am as a person. I love playing football."
People ask him why he always smiles, on and off the field.
"I figure you simulate Mickey Mouse, what happens all the time, smiling and laughter. That's who I am on the field. I genuinely love to play football. I'm blessed. I'm very thankful to get the opportunity to be in the NFL. So that's why I always have a smile on my face."
Ward looked like anything but an MVP when he dropped a first-down pass and another pass that would have been a 28-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
"I got so upset at myself on the touchdown pass that I dropped," Ward said. "I make that catch in my sleep a hundred times a night."
He made up for it three plays later by catching a 37-yard pass from Ben Roethlisberger at the 3 on third-and-28, setting up the Steelers' first touchdown to give them a 7-3 lead they never relinquished. He also caught Antwaan Randle El's 43-yard touchdown pass that put the Steelers in front 21-10 midway through the fourth quarter.
"Lynn Swann and the Steelers have defined NFL football and the wide receiver position for a long time," commissioner Paul Taglilabue said, "and I think that the performance we had yesterday from Hines Ward will just add to that illustrious group of Steelers who are parts of Super Bowl history, and part of the tradition."
Ward began the 2005 season by holding out the first two weeks of training camp. He later received the largest signing bonus in Steelers history, $9 million, as part of a five-year, $27.5 million contract he signed Sept. 5.
"I get the opportunity to be able to retire as a Steeler," Ward said. "That was my whole thing going into it. I couldn't picture myself in another uniform. I just thought I was the perfect fit for the offense we ran, the City of Pittsburgh, a blue-collar town. That's how I look at myself, a blue-collar player."
Before he ended his holdout, he had a talk with coach Bill Cowher, who told Ward how much he meant to the team.
"I do remember after we got off the phone and I did report back," Ward said, "the last thing I said, 'Hey, let's go win a Super Bowl!' "
Mickey Mouse went out and did it, smiling the whole way.Matt Freed, Post-Gazette
A Seahawk defensive back hits Steelers receiver Hines Ward in the second quarter.
Click photo for larger image.
Ed Bouchette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3878.