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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
The receiver was so nervous before Super Bowl XL he got sick, but went on to be MVP.
By RICK STROUD
Published February 7, 2006
DETROIT - Hines Ward was sick about dropping a pass in the end zone in the first half of Super Bowl XL Sunday, but he felt even worse before the start.
"I got so sick before the pregame, I asked (Ravens linebacker) Ray Lewis, I said, "Man, is it all right for me to be nervous like this?' And he looked over and said, "Man, all the great ones do. So just go out and play.'
"I remember he told me that, I ran back into the locker room, I was still a little light-headed and I excused myself to the bathroom and had to take care of that. That's how nervous I was playing in the Super Bowl."
Ward took control of his nerves and the game, catching five passes for 123 yards and a touchdown to become the fifth receiver to earn Super Bowl MVP honors in the Steelers' 21-10 victory over Seattle, joining Fred Biletnikoff, Jerry Rice, Deion Branch and Lynn Swann.
The significance was not lost on Ward, who felt uncomfortable with comparisons to Steelers greats Swann and John Stallworth before winning a Super Bowl.
"When you mention the Steelers greats and you mention wide receivers, the first names are Swann and Stallworth," Ward said. "When I put on the uniform and people are comparing me to those guys, those are big shoes to fill.
"I got so upset at myself at the touchdown pass that I dropped, I make that catch in my sleep a hundred times a night. But I put so much pressure on myself figuring that's how they made their names, making all the great catches."
Ward's touchdown came on a 43-yard reverse pass from fellow receiver Antwaan Randle El. He also had a 37-yard reception in the first half that set up quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's 1-yard touchdown run.
Considering Ward began the season with a holdout over his contract, he could hardly believe his good fortune Monday.
"It's something that's part of football, it happens. Do I regret it? No. It was a road I had to come across," said Ward, who signed a five-year, $27.5-million extension in September. "I do remember after I did report back, the last thing I said was, "Let's go win a Super Bowl.' It's kind of amazing how we ended up at this point considering how we started. Everything worked out for the best and I get the opportunity to retire as a Steeler. I couldn't picture myself in another uniform. I just thought I was the perfect fit for the offense that we ran, for the city of Pittsburgh, a blue-collar town. That's how I kind of look at myself, a blue-collar player."
Ward, 29, has caught 112 passes in a season, eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving mark four times in his career and has been to four Pro Bowls.
"A lot of times he's gotten mad at me because every time he comes into training camp I'm drafting No.1 receivers and he just keeps beating them out," coach Bill Cowher said.
"For him to get that award is indicative of the type of player he is. He's a tough player. He's a dependable player. You surround yourself with guys like that - you're not going to get all guys like that - but you get a core of guys like that and it rubs off. I like tough people and he's a tough player."
Ward, in his eighth year out of Georgia, led the Steelers in receiving again this season with 69 receptions for 975 yards - his lowest totals since 2000. He had 14.1 yards per catch and finished with 11 touchdowns, but was not named to the Pro Bowl.
"My production as far as stats-wise dropped off this season, but my coaches told me I was having one of my better years even without going to the Pro Bowl," Ward said. "But this is what it's all about, to reach the highest level of competition and do it on the grandest stage of all. I'll take that over a Pro Bowl any day."
"Having all the previous (MVP) winners lined up, and being up here now, it's a special class to be a part of ... to see some of the greatest football players in history lined up and watching us run through it, it just gave me chills down the back of my neck."