Collier: Blood, sweat and -- of course -- tears will pave Ward's path to Canton

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Well, I hope you're happy; you made him cry.

That's you, Steelers Nation, you fans from Pittsburgh to Pittston to Paris to Piracicaba, Brazil, and everywhere else in The Constellation of the Towel. You were the reason Hines Ward came back to Steelers headquarters Tuesday for one last real wet weep.

That Ward got released by the franchise he loved Feb. 29 surprised few, and that he quickly retreated from his stated intention to play further and chose instead to retire as a Steeler surprised perhaps some, but that he melted into a persistent lacrimation within minutes of his moment surprised no one.

Someone in the Steelers organization has the official results, but linebacker James Harrison, seated behind me at the noon news conference, called the first secretion at 2:26 of Ward's last official act.

Ward somehow got through an additional 25 minutes.

Harrison sat with former Ward teammates Jerome Bettis, Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel, and said unashamedly "we're doing an over/under on tears."

You think they were kidding?

Harrison seem like a kidder?

Ward cried early and often, late and often, pretty much doing the whole thing in a heavy mist, and, for anyone not terribly familiar with No. 86, it was as completely genuine as it was target specific:

"The one thing I love more than football," he gulped. "Steelers Nation and the fans."

Ward said he couldn't imagine playing for another team, which actually might have been the only way he could have played for another team, imagining it. The pounding snowstorm of outrageous free-agent cash that blanketed the NFL's receiving corps this month left Ward's sidewalk as dry and sunny as this new Pittsburgh spring.

I was hoping this presser was staged so that Ward could announce he was running for governor, which wouldn't be the first trail blazed for him by Lynn Swann. Though Swann could counsel Ward on any political aspirations, there's no confirmation Hines has any, at least not beyond the sometimes nonsensical politics of who winds up in Canton and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

I don't want to be critical of the football writers, for whom I have great respect, and I particularly don't want to defend baseball's no-arguments-please electoral system, but fans who won't be able to understand why Ward likely will need a lot of patience in his Hall of Fame quest should note the differences.

Baseball mails a ballot naming all eligible candidates to voting (10-year) members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, of which I am one. I open it between the mail box and the front door, scan the ballot for names that leap off the page, such as Tony Gwynn or Cal Ripken Jr., open the front door, find a stamp, stuff it in the stamped, postage-paid envelope from Cooperstown and walk it back to the mail box.

Average time elapsed: 1 minute.

Football holds its election at an ungodly hour the day before the Super Bowl in a hotel conference room in the host city. I'm not a voting member (nor do I wish to be), but I imagine it's something like an all-day episode of "Survivor."

Bring your torch, Jerome. The tribe has spoken.

This takes, oh, eight hours, although the Ward arguments should be easier to encapsulate.

Only Ward and Jerry Rice, in all NFL history, caught 1,000 footballs and won multiple Super Bowls. Rice is in the Hall of Fame.

Only Ward, Rice and Art Monk, in all NFL history, caught passes covering more than 12,000 yards and won multiple Super Bowls. Rice and Monk are in the Hall of Fame.

Only Ward, Marvin Harrison and Steve Largent, in all NFL history, caught 12,000 yards worth of passes in careers spent entirely with one team. Largent is in the Hall of Fame. Harrison will be, barring an outburst of nonsense.

Ward didn't go anywhere near the topic Tuesday and admitted he hasn't given a lot of thought to what his future looks like, which likely is why he made an off-the-cuff reference to coaching.

"Who knows, maybe one day I'll be back here with coach [Mike] Tomlin," Ward said, "even though he doesn't think I'd do very great as a coach."

Standing in the wings, Tomlin cracked up.

Unless he's passionate about it, there's no good reason for a guy like Ward -- winning smile, magnetic personality, Q rating off the charts -- to dive into coaching right now. The fans would love to see him on Sundays and at training camp, and yes, Hines loves the fans (they make him cry), but I don't know if he loves them enough to spend 20-hour days breaking down video and instructing 25-year-olds on which routes are hot and which are not for the next 25 years.

The one place Ward is needed right now is probably on the panel at "Dancing With the Stars," where the other night judge Bruno Tonioli actually compared Urkel to Gregory Hines.

Bruno ... please.

Finally, the other reason I was hoping Ward would announce for governor Tuesday is that I've written so much about him over the years that the available subject lines are all but exhausted.

It would be pointless to try to summarize all the things I've said about him, so I'll only add this. I've covered more NFL games than I'd care to count, going back more than 30 years. In a sizeable portion of them, Hines Ward was as impactful a combination of skill and toughness as any player on either team.

And he was nice about it.

Don't look for that on his bust in Canton.

Gene Collier:


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