Hines Ward honored with Dapper Dan Lifetime Achievement Award
January 27, 2013 10:00 AM
Hines Ward's touchdown reception off a pass from fellow receiver Antwaan Randle El in Super Bowl XL in Detroit is one of the enduring memories from the game for Steelers Nation.
Hines Ward was honored with the Dapper Dan Lifetime Achievement Award.
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It would at first glance seem odd to honor Hines Ward with the Dapper Dan Lifetime Achievement Award when much of his life is ahead of him.
Ward is 36 and just one year into what Chuck Noll would call his life's work. Yet his first life was so filled with achievement that it deserves some recognition.
Where do we start? Most prolific receiver in Steelers history, Super Bowl MVP, two-time Super Bowl champ, top eight in receptions in NFL history, three-time Steelers MVP, first Korean-American Super Bowl winner, a member of the President's Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and "Dancing With The Stars" champion, among others.
He wasted no time since his retirement from football finding new work. He landed a multi-faceted job with NBC that includes Sunday night NFL football and Notre Dame football broadcast duties. He has been competing on the Food Network's "Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off," a chef's version of "Dancing With The Stars."
And now he's training for the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii, where he plans to compete in the famous world championship that requires participants to run a marathon, swim 2.4 miles and bike 112 miles.
"I've always wanted to be known for more than just being a football player," Ward explained from his home in suburban Atlanta before heading to swim lessons to prepare for the Ironman, which takes place in October. "I've always wanted to think outside the box."
He credits his manager/agent, Andy Ree, for challenging him in those areas.
"I've been busier now than when I was in football. I did that my whole life and the routine didn't change the last 14 years. This past football season, I traveled all over the world. I'm in the Diamond Club with Delta. I lived in different hotels and I was excited to see different cities and go to stadiums and appreciate fans all over the NFL.
"Of course, you're going to miss football and the competitive side, but I wake up a lot easier on Monday."
It bugs him still that he was forced out of the game. He wanted to play one more season, 2012, but the Steelers said no. They released him and, fighting the urge to try to play for another team, Ward ultimately announced his retirement at a ceremony at the team's South Side headquarters.
"I'm a little disappointed how it ended because it wasn't my idea how to end things. But that's part of the business. I still think about how it went down, and I look at Ray Lewis having the opportunity to walk off the field in Baltimore. I never had that opportunity. But this city still loves me and supports me, so regardless what I do, I always have a home back in Pittsburgh."
His friend, Jerome Bettis, said there is more to that than Ward's 1,000 catches and his Super Bowl MVP.
"He inspired guys because he had an iron will," said Bettis, a two-time Dapper Dan Man of the Year. "He never let the game take his spirit away. You always saw the smile; it's because of the type of person he was. That iron will was so strong. Even in the darkest hours, he was always positive, always had a smile on his face, he was always connected. That's the one thing he brought to that team.
"You always talk about how these Steelers teams were always tough. Well, Hines was part of the reason those Steelers teams were so tough. You see your wide receiver out there taking a guy to the ground, that permeates around into that whole locker room and you become a tough football team because your leaders are tough. Hines was one of those leaders who was tough and fearless, and that resonated through that whole team."
In 14 seasons, Ward caught 1,000 passes for 12,083 yards and 85 touchdowns, all team records. He added 428 yards rushing, most in team history by a receiver. Those statistics dwarf those compiled by Hall of Famers John Stallworth and Lynn Swann and yet the way he produced them meant so much more than the numbers.
"When you produce as much as he did in critical situations he did as long as he did, it's certainly worthy of a lifetime achievement award," said Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert. "He had the one intangible and that was the heart and the love of the game."
Ward misses the game, but he's been eased into his post-football career with a job that keeps him around it.
"It's been amazing. Considering the way my career started and how it ended with 1,000 catches. I walked away from the game with my head held up high, proudly, because nothing was given to me. Everything I earned, I worked my butt off for. I got everything I wanted out of the NFL -- Super Bowls, Pro Bowls, Super Bowl MVP. I've given back to the city that gave me so much, and I did some things off the field."
Those off-field accomplishments were MVP-like in themselves after he won that honor in Super Bowl XL, which put him in Disney World, on the cover of Sports Illustrated and made him an overnight sensation in his native South Korea. There, they knew little about American football until one of their own won the Super Bowl MVP.
Ward used that platform to help others like himself, bi-racial kids of Korean and African heritage who faced fierce discrimination in Korea because of it. Ward and his Korean mother traveled back to Seoul for the first time since he was one year old to rousing interest. He pledged $1 million of his own money to create the Hines Ward Helping Hands Foundation to help biracial children in South Korea.
That's some resume. A lifetime resume with a lifetime to go.
"I just take it one year at a time," Ward said. "I'm just enjoying being at home around my family. There are so many different projects out there, I'm sure Andy's phone is ringing off the hook. I'm very blessed to be in a position like this.
"I really enjoy broadcasting, and I still do my show in Pittsburgh every Saturday during the football season. I do some charitable things around there. That's my home away from home.
"This is definitely one of the biggest honors I will receive in the city of Pittsburgh. It's just amazing that Mr. Rooney, coach Bill Cowher, for them to take a chance on me 15 years ago and to do the things I'd done for the team and for the city, and to be acknowledged with this award, I have a big smile on my face."
For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published January 27, 2013 5:00 AM