"It wasn't fun anymore," Hartings said. "I was talking to someone the other day; I was telling him that year was all work. I just felt like I could have sat down that year pretty easily. The amount of pain was definitely enough to sit down for the season and give it a year off."
But Hartings didn't. He started every game in 2003, the year the Steelers came into camp with Super Bowl aspirations but went home with a 6-10 record.
Hartings started every game the next year, and the next year. Despite a couple of bum knees and playing offensive line in the league for 10 seasons, Hartings has started 59 consecutive games at center for the Steelers. He last missed a game on Nov. 3, 2002 against Cleveland.
"Definitely I have changed my routine since then," Hartings said. "I don't work out as hard as I used to in the off-season, and I think that's helped allow me to maintain where it's at, and maybe even get a little bit better, and definitely not get worse."
Hartings restructured his contract in the off-season and took a hefty pay cut, but had another year added to his contract
"It's definitely year-to-year because of my health," Hartings said. "But as of right now, if I had to answer the question, 'Am, I thinking about playing next year?' I'd have to say yes. My body feels good. After that, you know I have two years on this contract, so after that it would be more up to the Steelers than it would be me right now."
Hartings was set to make $4.75 million this year before restructuring it in the off-season. He had his contract extended by one year to 2007, but his salary was reduced to $2.2 million. His salary in 2007 is $3.6 million.
"Right now I feel like I'm able to play that contract out," Hartings said. "Even in negotiating the contract and restructuring it this off-season, I wanted to make sure the Steelers realized that it's year-to-year. I think I could have said, yeah I want to play four more years and maybe had a better contract. But realistically, for a lot of different reasons, it's year-to-year for me."
Last year, he didn't miss a snap in helping the Steelers to the Super Bowl title. He also made his second consecutive trip to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl and solidified his name among the all-time greats at the position for the Steelers, who've had only three centers the past 32 years in Mike Webster, Dermontti Dawson and Hartings. The three centers combined for 14 All-Pro teams and 18 Pro-Bowl squads.
"I feel better than I did last year," the soon-to-be 33-year old said. "I'm more and more comfortable at center. I feel there's no reason, at least that's how I feel right now, that I can't play as well or better than last year."