Hines Ward, a longtime nemesis of the Ravens, won’t return to the Pittsburgh Steelers for the 2012 season. The Steelers announced on their website Wednesday that they plan to release the veteran wide receiver.
Ward, who turns 36 next week, caught just 46 passes for 381 yards and two touchdowns in 2011, his least productive season since his rookie year in 1998. He was willing to restructure his contract to remain with the Steelers, but they will cut ties with their all-time leader in catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.
“We had a conversation today with Hines Ward and informed him that we plan to release him of his contract prior to the start of the 2012 NFL calendar year,” Steelers president Art Rooney II said in a statement on the team’s website. “Hines has been an integral part of our success since we drafted him in 1998, and we will forever be grateful for what he has helped us achieve. He has meant so much to this organization, both on and off the field, and we appreciate his efforts over the past 14 years. Hines’ accomplishments are numerous, and he will always be thought of as one of the all-time great Steelers. We wish him nothing but the best.”
Ward was a third-round draft pick of the Steelers' in 1998. He had six seasons with 1,000 receiving yards, was selected to four Pro Bowls and was named the Most Valuable Player when the Steelers won Super Bowl XL. Ward hauled in his 1,000th career reception in the Steelers’ 13-9 win over the Cleveland Browns in Week 17.
According to Pro Football Reference, Ward caught 108 passes in 26 games against the Ravens for 1,320 yards and six touchdowns. He was often at the center of the hard-hitting rivalry between the Ravens and Steelers, most notably when he blind-sided Ravens free safety Ed Reed with a crushing block during the 2007 season.
A year later, the Ravens allegedly put a bounty on Ward, but the players publicly backpedaled from that later.
Ward’s peers named him the NFL’s dirtiest player in a Sports Illustrated player poll before the 2009 season.
"I don't want people who don't know football and the first thing they read is 'the dirtiest player' and [have] a misconception of me personally as a human being," Ward said in a November 2009 conference call with Baltimore reporters. "Dirtiest player? I know what I mean to my ballclub and my teammates. I'm just trying to win."
If this marks the end of Ward’s NFL career, what will be your lasting memory of No. 86 in black and yellow?