Ward reports; Steelers roll

PITTSBURGH – The Steelers opened their preseason with three booming salvos Monday night.

First, Hines Ward reported to Heinz Field to end his 15-day holdout. He did so in order to resume contract negotiations and retire as a member of the organization.

The next two salvos weren't nearly as important in terms of the big picture, but the charged up Steelers scored two quick touchdowns on their way to a 38-31 win over the Eagles.

Willie Williams returned a Donovan McNabb interception 10 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the game.

Ricardo Colclough struck next with a 66-yard punt return for a touchdown at the end of the Eagles' second possession.

After an Eagles touchdown in the second quarter, Ike Taylor returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown to put the Steelers up, 21-7, and a short touchdown run by Willie Parker gave the Steelers a 28-10 halftime lead.

The Steelers' lead reached 31-10 and they held off a late Eagles rally. They did so with Ward cheering them on from the sidelines. He showed up before the game in the hope the two sides could hammer out a contract extension before the start of the regular season.

Ward was home in Atlanta working out when he decided he couldn't do without football any longer. He called coach Bill Cowher on Sunday night and told him he was reporting. He was asked what exactly changed his mind.

"Missing football," he said. "It sucks being at home. It's the worst thing ever, sitting at home watching all your teammates. They've got the NFL Network now. You can watch practices now. I was like, hell this sucks being at home. I want to be out there battling, preparing for the season, getting better.

"I think we have a great opportunity to make another run. For the first time in my career, we have stability at the quarterback position. I like to look at my situation as I have a greater upscale now that Ben (Roethlisberger)'s going into his second year. He's the future of our organization and I want to be a part of that."

If Ward and the Steelers don't reach an agreement before the season starts, he'll be paid the $1.66 million he's owed this year and become a free agent at season's end. Since he can't walk back out and then return to play in the regular season, Ward is betting that the Steelers will negotiate in good faith.

"This organization has done so much for me and my family and my career; it's up to them," he said. "The ball is in their court now. I'm here to show support to my teammates tonight to get ready to go out and practice Wednesday. I've done my part. The ball is back in the front office's court."

Ward refuted reports he wants to be paid like the top three wide receivers in the league – Randy Moss, Marvin Harrison and Terrell Owens.

"Those numbers right there are ridiculous. I wouldn't even try to ask for that," he said. "Not to say I'm any less of a player than those guys, but I know how our organization's run, how our offense is. For me it's an opportunity for a player to start his career in one place and end his career in one place. And what other place to do it than to where black and gold. … I don't think I'd even look right in another uniform."

Ward believes he's in the best shape of his life. He weighs 203 pounds, down from his listing of 215. He said he was motivated by comments about his age – 29 -- which naturally crop up as reporters analyze his contract situation.

"My whole career people have judged me: I can't do this; I can't do this," Ward said. "Yet here I am, with an opportunity to be one of the best receivers in Steelers history."

Ward needs 33 receptions to become the Steelers' all-time leading receiver over John Stallworth. Ward is also second to Stallworth in yardage by 1,768 yards.

"People say I'm about to get to 30, I'm going to fall off or something," he said. "I'd like to think I'm starting to hit my prime."

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