For Hines Ward, life is good. He and partner Kym Johnson have been consistently among the top scorers on ABC's "Dancing With the Stars," and tonight he was an honoree at the 38th annual Art Rooney Awards to benefit the Catholic Youth Association.
It gets even better, Mr. Ward said at a pre-event press conference at the Westin Convention Center Hotel, Downtown. When he took Ms. Johnson to Mike & Tony's on Wednesday night, the gyros were on the house: "Way to make me look good in my own city," he said, laughing.
After tying for the judges' top score on this week's "DWTS," the duo caught a red-eye from Los Angeles via Atlanta and have been rehearsing a new number at an undisclosed studio here. Next up is the paso doble, a tricky enough step as a dance, but Mr. Ward will be challenged in another area: In the spirit of the performance, he won't be allowed to smile.
"She's got to make me mad or something," he said.
They will dance to "Explosive," a vibrant string number by Bond.
All in all, he said, "I'm having a blast. A lot of people were shocked [that he really can dance] and I've been shocked myself."
He has taken to creating dance versions of the traditional playbook. "I'm putting in the same work ethic as I approach football, putting in the long hours. Even when I go home, I'm writing the dance routine down on a piece of paper."
Asked if she had seen the paper, Ms. Johnson said, "Yes, he showed me ... it looks like gibberish, I guess."
With Steelers Nation backing him and good scores from the judges, it's likely the team will go far in the competition. But they have their fingers crossed, too. Tonight, Ms. Johnson showed off the silver bracelet Mr. Ward gave her as a good-luck present; it has the Steelers logo etched into the face.
"I also have a college [bracelet]" she said, pointing toward the black-and-red beading, the colors of Mr. Ward's alma mater, the University of Georgia.
"I'll take all the lucky charms I can get," Mr. Ward said, smiling, as always. "And I'm looking forward to Monday. This song is very challenging."
Maria Sciullo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1478.