Hines Ward is hurting, and while not all of it comes from the Steelers' Super Bowl loss, he can have the other stuff repaired surgically. It will take awhile to fix the broken heart.
Ward will have two surgeries this week, the first on his left knee, the second on his left thumb. His knee, the one without an ACL, has cartilage damage that must be repaired, something that has bothered him since training camp. He has a torn ligament in his left thumb from throwing a block in the second game of the season at Tennessee. The thumb can bend all the way back past his wrist, which is why he wore a protective cast on it all season.
Ward isn't the only player who will have surgery. Rookie receiver Emmanuel Sanders will have his broken foot repaired and untold others are in line.
Dr. James Bradley, the team's orthopedic surgeon, will have a busy three weeks as players rush to get their surgeries before their insurance runs out with the expected March 4 lockout. Players cannot even visit the trainers room for rehab once they are locked out.
The Steelers held their final meeting Tuesday with the coaches, then had another with quarterback Charlie Batch, a member of the NFL Players Association board, to discuss such things as health and disability insurance and answer questions.
That stuff is quickly becoming a reality, but what remained in the forefront for the players Tuesday was their 31-25 loss to Green Bay two days earlier.
"It's tough," Ward said. "I was really depressed. I didn't want to watch TV because all you saw was Green Bay and stuff. It hurts more I think because we had an opportunity to win the game.
"Anybody who turns the ball over three times and still has an opportunity to win shows a lot about the team. But we didn't play our best ball. That's disappointing for me personally because for big games I just knew we would step up big, but we didn't do that on Sunday."
Ward thought they'd do it right until the end, when they had a first-down on their 13 and two minutes to go. However, without criticizing anyone, he was not happy he did not get much of an opportunity on that drive. Heath Miller caught the first pass for 15 yards. Ward caught the next for 5 yards -- which wasted about 30 seconds because Antwaan Randle El acknowledged he lined up on the wrong side. The next three passes all were aimed at Mike Wallace but never connected.
"I'm thinking deja vu, here we go again," said Ward, who caught seven passes for 78 yards and one touchdown in the game. "Two minutes, let's go down there. I really felt like I was in a zone, that anything that came my way it was going to get caught no matter what. I didn't get an opportunity. I would like to have gotten opportunities [on the final series] but it didn't happen."
Asked what areas he thought the Steelers might need to fortify before next season, Ward mentioned the offensive line, where he pointed to the uncertainty, including what will become of two right tackles, Flozell Adams and Willie Colon. The offensive captain also praised the work of Doug Legursky at center Sunday for injured Maurkice Pouncey.
"Legursky played his tail off. I just watched him [on tape]. I watched the game. He battled. He held his own. I was real happy about that."
There was little happiness, though, on the team's South Side campus on Tuesday.
"It still hurts. I don't know how long it will take. Just a lot of guys are sad, disappointed because we know we could have played better."
Ward and five others gathered at James Farrior's home Monday night after they arrived from Texas to commiserate.
"We all got together to talk among each other about the game and get it off our chests. That's the best relief you need. When you're around family and friends they can always tell you, but they don't really know.
"We had a phenomenal year, considering how we started, the teams we beat to get to that point, but to fall short the way we did, that's what's so disheartening to the guys."
Ward will return for his 14th season in 2011, but it was still good for him to hear coach Mike Tomlin does not want him to retire.
"He just told me it's not even an option, so don't even think about it. He wants me back. I just have to get away. Once I get all my surgeries cleaned up, I'll come back fresh. I'll feel better. I've been playing with that all year long."
He refused to blame his lower stats -- his 59 receptions were his fewest since 2000 -- on the injuries.
"They said it'll feel much better. I've been playing for so many years on it and never really had surgery on it. They'll go in there and clean it up a little bit and I'll be fine.
"To go out there and still make plays the way I did in the Super Bowl, there's still some playing days left. I'm not going to hang it up just yet."
Ed Bouchette: firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published February 9, 2011 5:00 AM