Hines Ward: From stats to Rats

Hines Ward was the only Steelers receiver to catch more than one pass in the 2004 opener last Sunday against the Raiders.<p>Ward, 28, began his seventh pro season with 7 catches for 99 yards. He moved past Elbie Nickel into fourth place on the Steelers' all-time yardage list with 5,180 yards. He trails Lynn Swann by 282 yards, Louis Lipps by 836 and John Stallworth by 3,543. Ward is second in all-time team receptions with 432, which is 105 behind Stallworth. Ward sat down with us after the game.

Ever hear of Elbie Nickel?
That's the only guy on the list that I hadn't heard of. But I would assume he was a pretty good wideout because he's up there with the big dogs. To be honest, though, I'd never even heard of him.

Aren't you a big dog now?
No, no, no. I still don't think I'm a big dog. I haven't reached my potential yet. I still have a lot of room to grow. It's kind of hard to sit there and imagine that after three Pro Bowls. I just feel I haven't reached my potential yet. I'm still learning new stuff every day, and every day it seems like I'm fighting to try to earn my respect as being one of the better wideouts in the game. That's what motivates me.

Do you feel like 30's creeping in?
No. I mean, my first three years I didn't play much. I was on special teams. My body feels fine. I condition my body in the off-season to deal with the pain from the hits and stuff that I take. But as far as speed and everything, I feel the same. On tape I'm still as quick as I was when I got here. Knock on wood, but I've been blessed with not having any serious injuries. I haven't missed a game since Little League. I've been blessed. It's just all the hard work I've put into it year in and year out. That's what's put me up there in the stats. Everybody's always waiting for someone else, like Plax (Burress). Everybody's waiting for Plax, but you don't hear about whether I can still maintain my level. It seems like everybody's just waiting for me to fall off somehow. They don't know how long this ride can go. I just try to maintain. If I continue playing consistently good things will happen to me.

Do you think seven catches in the opener caught some attention?
I thought it was a big surprise to people.

Did it surprise you?
It did. Going into this season I really didn't know what to expect with us trying to re-establish our run game. The opportunities won't be there as many times as last year. When I do get my number called I've got to take advantage of it. There's only one ball to go around.

You're fourth now in team history. Is the top in sight yet?
If I get a thousand yards I'm in second place in yards. I'm already second in catches. Do people think I'm a Hall of Famer? I don't know. To me, I'm still the little kid playing special teams. That's how I approach it. I don't really look at the stats because those guys played in a different time. Those guys played 12, 13 years but they didn't pass the ball as much as we have in the past few years. So do I sit here and say I'm better than them? Nah, I don't think so. It's just great to be listed amongst the great wideouts in Steelers history. That's an honor, and that's really all I can ask for. People want to compare but you can't compare. My style of game is totally different than their style. And I'm not a good comparison person. I want to be Hines Ward. I don't want to be like anyone else. Maybe one day somebody will say they want to play like Hines Ward. I don't have size and speed. I'm not Plaxico. And yet I'm still out there producing and trying to be as complete as I can be. That's how I want to leave my mark on the game. I'm not Lynn Swann or Stallworth, but when they mention my name I want people to say, 'You know, he was a helluva football player.' That's all I can really ask.

To make a comparison for another story I'm doing, you and Duce Staley have the same giant heart. Would you agree?
Not really my kind. He has his own. Everybody has their own. He's just a hard worker. He's going to fight for every yard that he can try to pick up. I've known that since watching him in Philly. No I've known that since college. We used to play against him. He was running like that in college. He runs with heart. You know, you have to play this game with passion and I think Duce has that.

The one run he had against the Raiders. I was blocking for him and I thought he was down but he carried a bunch of guys for every yard he could. That's like me. I'm not going to run out of bounds. I'm going to hit you before you hit me and try to get two or three more yards. That's how he plays the game.

You aren't paid what you deserve, but are you getting the respect you deserve?

I don't know, but it's great to hear coaches around the league, when they come up to me and say, 'Son, I wouldn't mind having you because you play the game the way it's supposed to be played.' I get more excitement hearing it from another coach because you don't really hear it from your own coach, and that's understandable. They want you to keep things in perspective but every once in awhile you'd like to hear it. But sometimes you hear things, like the defensive backs coach from the Ravens saying that I'm a beast. You love to hear things like that.

Surprised you weren't named a co-captain?
It really didn't hurt. I've been named the team MVP for two years and that was voted upon by my teammates. So who am I? I can only play this game the way I know how to play. If my teammates or anyone else don't like it, it's really out of my control. We all voted for co-captains but we all voted for team MVP, too.

Isn't the other sign of respect how flustered you make the Ravens' DBs?
They just don't like me. They respect me but they don't like me because I'm going to hit everybody. That's the approach I've taken my whole career. Even if we're friends, and I come across the middle, you're trying to kill me. You're not trying to tackle me softly, so I've got to hit you first. I'm not going to let up on run plays. I won't let you take a breather on run plays. I'm going to go out there and physically try to get into your head. And get them early and tell them, 'Here's what you're going to get for four quarters.' Now they're not only worrying about covering me, but they're worried about me trying to crackback on them, then they're worrying about a cutblock, then they're worrying about a decoy route. All this stuff is in their mind the whole game. Then they're worrying about trying to fight me and here I'm running a route on you.

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