Ward wants to hit 1,000 in catches
Walk into some clubs and discover the cream of the crop. The Duquesne Club, the 600 Home Run Club, the Playboy Club and the club with the half-Korean, half-African American knocking on its door to get in.
They usually don't open doors and barriers for Hines Ward, he knocks them down. He has accomplished just about everything there is in football, with one personal goal left, to join a club that is among the most exclusive in sports. Only seven players in the history of the NFL have had 1,000 pass receptions in their careers. Hines Ward is poised to become the eighth.
"That's like 3,000 hits, 600 home runs," said Ward.
Not really because the NFL's 1,000 Catch Club is more exclusive than those two in baseball. There have been 28 baseball players with 3,000 career hits. Jim Thome this week became the eighth player to hit 600 home runs.
Ward has 954 receptions. He needs 46, and he has caught more passes than that in every season except 1998, when he caught 15 as a rookie. He said he wants to win a third Super Bowl in his 14th NFL season, but hitting 1,000 remains a personal goal.
"That would be awesome to get 1,000 catches and do it all for one organization," Ward said. "It wasn't like I'm in a prolific passing offense, it's not like I'm playing in a dome. I think it's just a milestone of consistency I've had my whole career and just being there. That would be huge."
It would add to his considerable resume that includes four Pro Bowls, two Super Bowl rings, one Super Bowl MVP award and virtually every team receiving record, including his 11,702 yards. And, remember, a few Hall of Famers also played the position in Pittsburgh, Lynn Swann and John Stallworth.
Hitting 1,000, "I think that puts him in the Hall of Fame, first ballot," said Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. "I think he already is without it, but I think that legitimizes it.
"Hines always needs something, he always has to have either a chip on his shoulder or a goal just to keep him rolling. I love when he's frosty and he has a chip on his shoulder."
Arians also noticed something different about Ward in this training camp.
"He looks spryer than he did last year. I think getting the knee cleaned out [is the reason]. It swelled on him a lot last year. I think that has helped, losing a little weight through the dancing and I'm sure that dancing stuff tightened up his core. He looks good."
Ward rejoined his teammates in practice last week after June 1 thumb surgery to repair a ligament. The knee surgery, to remove some lose cartilage, occurred a week after the Steelers lost the Super Bowl. He is 35 and wants to play at least through the 2012 season and maybe beyond. But he does not want to overextend his stay and points to how Franco Harris finished his career in Seattle for a few weeks in 1984 as an example.
"I don't want to play for any other team. I don't want to be like Franco, in his last year he goes for Seattle. I have two years left on my deal, this year and next year. We'll see how it goes, when I want to retire. I do want to finish my contract out and go from there. I do want to win another Super Bowl."
And wants those 46 receptions. He caught 59 last season, the fewest since his rookie year. There are younger, faster receivers all around him -- Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown. Their talents demand more and more attention from the quarterback. Getting 46 won't be as easy as it was maybe even last season. The season before that, however, he more than doubled that total with 95.
"The opportunities you get, you have to capitalize," Ward said. "I think I've done that my whole career."
He counted up the number of quarterbacks from whom he caught passes and came to eight, including catching his first touchdown from Mike Tomczak against the expansion Cleveland Browns in 1999. The others include Kordell Stewart, Kent Graham, Tommy Maddox, Ben Roethlisberger, Charlie Batch, Byron Leftwich and Dennis Dixon. He also caught touchdown passes from Jerome Bettis and Antwaan Randle El, including the one from Randle El that helped the Steelers win Super Bowl XL and Ward that game's MVP.
"Ten different guys, that's crazy," Ward said.
One thousand receptions might be even crazier. He would become the only receiver to do so playing his entire career on the grass outdoors in the northern climate.
"I know I'm getting older," Ward said, "but I'm in great condition, I look crisp out there, I feel good. It's a matter of staying healthy for 16 games and, hopefully, make the playoffs and being that guy the team can hang their hat on. In the Super Bowl, I pride myself on making plays."
First Published August 17, 2011 12:00 am