Hines Ward came inconspicuously into the NFL. An undersized quarterback out of Georgia drafted in the third round of the 1998 draft, Ward was considered by many both a project, because he would have to switch to receiver, and a reach, because of his small size (listed generously as 6 ft) and his lack of speed (he runs a 4.5 of his best day). What couldn't be defined by tests, however, was his will to play and the chip on his shoulder.
Drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ward went all out to impress his team and it was a combination of his tenacity and willingness to do the dirtier part of the position, mainly blocking, that led the undersized QB to the starting job. Now, 14 years later and 1000 catches in, it's Ward's turn to turn that infectious smile on those doubter and bask in a mile stone that has only been reached by 8 other receivers in the history of the game.
"It's definitely a huge accomplishment," Ward said of his feat. "All week I was just trying to say, 'Man, I just want to win.' Because we still have a chance (to win) the AFC North and get that bye week. I think winning meant more to me than anything, but in the back of my mind I thought, "Man, it would be great to get a thousand catches.'"
The 1000th catch came on an inconspicuous play, a little shovel pass that actually lost 3 yards, but even that small detriment couldn't derail the joy and happiness felt by Ward and his teammates who made it a point to get him his 1000th catch by the end of the season.
Ward, a future Hall of Fame player, despite what some may think as they compare his overall numbers with his contemporaries, may be in his last season. He hasn't said anything definite concerning that, but since losing his starting job to the next generation, the writing is on the wall and the finish line is creeping ever closer.
"I never really have time to reflect on that," he said. "I've been so mentally focused on doing what I can do, help this team, help the younger guys to be in this position to make it to the playoffs. I have plenty of time for that. You guys will be the first ones to know when that happens."
Whatever he decides, and whatever he may do from here on out if he does leave the game, his story will be a testament to what one man with a ton of heart can do because nobody, and I mean nobody, expected the type of career out of Ward that he has given the Steelers. He will go down as the greatest Steelers wideout in the history of the franchise and will forever be remembered as one of the toughest guys to ever play the position.
"Not bad for a guy considering where I came from, and doing it all with this organization," said Ward, who has helped the Steelers get to three Super Bowls, winning two. "So hats off to all the coaching staffs, all my teammates, Mr. Rooney (owner Dan Rooney) and all those guys.
"My thousandth catch, my whole career here, this is amazing. Coming to the NFL, I was just proud to be in the NFL. My goal wasn't to catch a thousand balls or anything. But through hard work and perseverance and being able to stay healthy … Here I am. It's an elite club to be in."
Photo Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS