Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward had a modest day statistically in his team's 35-7 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. He had five catches for 30 yards and no touchdowns. But behind those small numbers lies one very large number: 12,000, or the number of Ward's career receiving yards. On Sunday, Ward became just the 19th player in NFL history to surpass 12,000 career receiving yards, a milestone that many of the game's greatest receivers, including Michael Irvin and Shannon Sharpe, couldn't reach.
After the game, Ward didn't try to ignore the gravity of his accomplishment. "To surpass 12,000 yards, to do it at home and to beat the Cincinnati Bengals, today was a trifecta."
Reaching this milestone is one of many highlights in a career that really wasn't supposed to have many; Ward wasn't exactly destined for greatness as a receiver from the beginning of his career in 1998. He shined at the University of Georgia, but injuries hurt his draft chances. He slid to the third round of the draft, when he was finally drafted by Pittsburgh – a team that, in 1998, was much more concerned with running the ball than getting it into the hands of its receivers often. At six-foot-nothing and 205 pounds, Ward doesn't have the build of an All-Pro receiver. Even today, Ward is appreciated by Steelers fans as much – if not more – for his blocking ability and toughness as for his skills as a receiver.
But still, as a receiver, Ward has been invaluable to Pittsburgh throughout most of the 2000s. He was the team's leading receiver from 2002 to 2006 and again in 2008. He represented his team at the Pro Bowl four years in a row, from 2001 to 2004. And in 2006 he earned one of the most prestigious awards in the NFL: Super Bowl MVP, following the Steelers' victory in Super Bowl XL over the Seattle Seahawks. He's the all-time franchise leader in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns.
Many are speculating that this season, his 14th, could be Ward's last in the NFL. It's hard to say whether Ward could have had an equally successful career playing for any other team, but most fans would agree that Ward's toughness and unconventional style make him a perfect fit in Pittsburgh, the town he's called home for his entire career. Seeing their beloved receiver surpass 12,000 yards, the town got another reason to celebrate Ward's great career.
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