While it still remains to be seen whether Hines Ward ever suits up for the Pittsburgh Steelers again, there can be no disputing the fact that Ward is the most productive wide receiver in franchise history. And it’s not even close.
The Steelers have had some magnificent receivers, including a pair from the 1970s – Lynn Swann and John Stallworth – who are in the Hall of Fame. But the statistics of those two Hall of Famers could be added together and still come up short to the numbers that Ward has accumulated.
The fact that the league has turned into a passing (and receiving) league cannot be argued. The numbers of many Hall of Fame QBs and WRs from the 1970s pale in comparison to what today’s players are putting up. But the records are there for fans to look at, and right there in black and white, the numbers say Ward is easily the best WR to ever suit up for the Steelers.
But if that’s the case, why is he not considered a lock for Canton? Add in the fact that there’s a logjam right now of eligible WRs who have yet to be elected (mainly Andre Reed, Tim Brown and Cris Carter), and a rather large group of WRs (including Marvin Harrison and Isaac Bruce) who will soon be eligible, and one begins to wonder how long it might take for Ward to get the big call once his career is over.
The Steelers had good receivers before Swann and Stallworth appeared on the scene, including Buddy Dial, a two-time All-Pro who twice led the league in YPR in the 60s, as well as after those two greats retired. Louis Lipps (6,018 yards) and Yancey Thigpen (5,081 yards) both made multiple trips to the Pro Bowl in Pittsburgh uniforms, and Santonio Holmes (5,235 career yards) appeared to be in that mold before the Steelers traded him to the New York Jets.
But the top-tier list of Steelers WRs begins and ends with the two Hall of Famers and Ward.
LYNN SWANN * 88
First-round pick in 1974 / HOF inductee in 2001
9 NFL seasons (4 Super Bowl wins & 1 SB MVP)
51 TD receptions (plus 1 rushing TD)
47.5 yards-per-game during his career
Swann led the league in TDs once, with 11, and had two seasons with double-digit TDs. But only once did he catch more than 50 passes in a season (a high of 61).
So how did he make it into the Hall of Fame?
The answer is quite simple: his performances in big games, mainly the Super Bowl (and you could also argue that part of his mystique was his ability to make incredible, artistic catches).
Swann played in 16 Playoff games
, including 4 Super Bowls.
JOHN STALLWORTH * 82
48 catches for 907 yards and 9 TDs
Super Bowls XI, XIII & XIV – 161 yards vs. Dallas (and the MVP award), 124 yards vs. Dallas and 79 yards vs. Los Angeles
Averaged 22.8 YPR in those 3 games, scoring a TD in each one
Fourth-round pick in 1974; HOF inductee in 2002
14 seasons (4 SB wins)
8,723 yards / T-61stall-time (although he was 9th when he retired in ’87)
63 TD receptions (plus 1 rushing TD) / T-53rdall-time
It’s hard to understand why Stallworth had a longer wait than Swann to get into the Hall, because his career numbers were clearly better. He posted three 1,000-yard seasons (including a high of 1,395), and had years with 80, 75 and 70 receptions.
Stallworth even had better overall postseason numbers than Swann, in 17 games
HINES WARD * 86
57 catches for 1,054 yards and 12 TDs
Super Bowls XIII & XIV – 6 rec., 236 yards, 3 TDs
5 Playoff games over 100 yards, including a 156-yard effort in 1978
Third-round pick in 1998
14 seasons (3 SB appearances, with 2 wins & 1 SB MVP)
1,000 catches / 8thall-time
12,083 yards / 18thall-time
85 TD receptions / T-13th all-time
Plus 428 career rushing yards, 1 TD
Ward has six 1,000-yard seasons in his career, with a high of 1,329. In his top season for receptions, he caught 112 balls. Ward also has five other years with 80 or more grabs. And Ward will also go down as one of the toughest receivers ever, as well as perhaps the best blocking WR ever.
The main factor by which all Steelers are judged is Super Bowl rings, and Ward has done well, with two. His 18 career Playoff games
include this past season’s loss to Denver, in which Ward did not record a catch.
88 receptions for 1,181 yards and 10 TDs (the catches and yards are franchise records)
Super Bowls XL & XLV – 12 receptions, 201 yards, 2 TDs
Ward has five 100-yard Playoff games, with a high of 135 in 2007
INCLUDING Ward, there are a grand total of 11 WR (and TE) in league history who rank in the top 20 in career receptions
, receiving TDs
and receiving yards
. In other words, Ward is in pretty select company. Amazingly, only one of those receivers (Jerry Rice) is in the Hall – which means the list of viable Hall of Fame candidates at the wideout position will take a while to get through (especially if the voters ignore the position entirely, as they did this year). Irving Fryar, Reed, Brown, Carter, Harrison, Bruce, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and the still-active Tony Gonzalez are the other players in that list. Ward should feel right at home among this group of elite wide receivers, and one day, should have his own bust in Canton.