So instead of seeking to play elsewhere, Ward tearfully announced his retirement Tuesday at the Steelers headquarters, three weeks after the team released him following 14 seasons in a Pittsburgh uniform.
"I can say I'm a Steeler for life and that's the bottom line, that's all I've really ever wanted," said Ward.
With current and former Steelers Jerome Bettis, Aaron Smith, James Harrison and Brett Keisel among those in attendance at Ward's announcement, Ward thanked the organization, his teammates and fans for their support.
"You guys have given me the best years of my life and I will never forget that," Ward said. "As I close this chapter of my life, I want to thank you guys from the bottom of my heart."
Ward retires as the Steelers' all-time leader in a number of receiving categories, including catches (1,000), yards (12,083) and touchdown receptions (85). He was also a four-time Pro Bowl player, member of three Super Bowl teams and was the MVP of Super Bowl XL.
"I want my legacy here to say 'You know what, he was one hell of a football player who gave it his all,'" the 36-year-old Ward said. "I'm truly blessed. I played in three Super Bowls, won two Super Bowls, was Super Bowl MVP. What more could a player want out of his entire football career?"
Well, for Ward it had been the possibility of one more season.
Though his role diminished greatly in 2011, he felt he could contribute at least one more season, going as far as to offer to take a pay cut to remain with the Steelers, the team that selected the former University of Georgia star in the third round of the 1998 draft.
But the Steelers decided it was time to move on, not only with Ward, but a number of other veterans as well. In addition to releasing Ward, the Steelers have also cut Smith, James Farrior and Chris Hoke, four players who helped the team to three Super Bowls and two championships in the past decade.
"It's the end of an era," Ward admitted. "We put in a lot of years together. Hopefully, we established something here for the younger guys.
"Our goal every year is to win a Super Bowl. It's not like that in a lot of places. ... Hopefully, we left that lasting impression on the guys behind us."
Though Ward began the 2011 season as a starter, his playing diminished greatly with the emergence of third-year veteran Mike Wallace and second-year receiver Antonio Brown, both of whom were voted to the Pro Bowl last season.
Ward finished the 2011 season with just 46 receptions, his fewest since his rookie season.
Ward spoke highly of the receiving corps he leaves behind.
"I know the wideouts are going to be in great hands," he said. "They're full of talent."
Ward was full of talent as well, including off the field.
With his infectious smile and personality, last spring he was a contestant on "Dancing With the Stars," a competition he won. He also served as an interviewer at this year's Oscars, and could pursue a career in front of the camera, just as his mentor, Bettis, has. But his desire to play football is still great.
"I feel like I have a few more good years in me left," Ward said. "I would love nothing more to get back to the Super Bowl."
But what he did not want to do was put on another team's uniform.
"I want to go down as one of the greats to wear the black-and-gold and that's how it should end," Ward said.
(Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.)