Could the seventh time be a charm for Pittsburgh Steelers legend Hines Ward? That’s how many times the former receiver has made it to the semi-final round of the NFL Hall of Fame process.
Ward, 46, spent his entire 14-year career in the black & gold. For much of that span, Ward was considered the NFL’s most complete receiver and revered for his toughness. He was afraid of nothing and smiled in defenders’ faces after every tackle.
It’s hard to comprehend that Ward spent nearly half of his career with the likes of Kent Graham, Mike Tomczak, Kordell Stewart and Tommy Maddox at the helm of the Steelers. It wasn’t until his sixth season that Ben Roethlisberger came along.
Ward was a four-time Pro Bowler (three pre-Ben Roethlisberger), played in three Super Bowls and was named MVP of Super Bowl 43. With his impressive career (stats listed below), it’s a wonder that he’s not already in the Hall of Fame.
Mark Kaboly, who covers the Pittsburgh Steelers for The Athletic, tweeted, “Former #Steelers WR Hines Ward is a semifinalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. My belief is that if Andre Reed is in that Ward should be in. Numbers are almost identical except for SB wins, SB MVP and, of course, Ward’s blocking.”
As one of 20 nominees at wide receiver, Ward has some stiff competition, most notably Anquan Boldin, Troy Brown, Torry Holt, Chad Johnson, Joe Horn, Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne, Steve Smith Sr. and Roddy White. Historically, a maximum of two receivers have been inducted in each class, though there’ve been spans of years that none were chosen.
Your guess is as good as mine as whether Ward will make it to Canton in 2023. It took legends Cris Carter, Tim Brown, Isaac Bruce and Terrell Owens several finalist rounds to be selected for enshrinement. Ward has yet to make it to the final round, which is unfortunate because there are lesser players already in the Hall of Fame.
Perhaps Ward will finally get his gold jacket when Ben Roethlisberger is inducted in 2027. Wouldn’t that be something? But that’s too long for such a deserving talent to wait.
Will James Harrison Be a First-Ballot Hall of Famer?
Hines Ward’s fellow Pittsburgh Steelers teammate James Harrison is also an NFL Hall of Fame finalist in his first year of eligibility.
Surprisingly, Harrison didn’t become a starter until age 29. Undrafted in 2002 out of Kent State University, he spent four different stints with the Steelers. He was signed to the Steelers practice squad but cut after one game before heading to the rival Baltimore Ravens, then the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe.
Harrison, now 44, returned to Pittsburgh in 2004 and finally became a starter, appearing in 177 games (107 starts). His laundry list of Steelers stats includes: 86 interceptions, eight total touchdowns, 33 forced fumbles and 772 tackles (122 for loss). Currently the Steelers’ all-time sack leader with 80.5, Harrisons’ single-season sack record (16 in 2008) was broken by T.J. Watt in 2021. Harrison congratulated Watt when he did it. At 73.5, it won’t be long before Watt surpasses Harrison for all-time franchise sacks.
Harrison has tremendous credentials thanks to those statistical performances: Five-time Pro Bowler, two-time First-Team All-Pro and the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2008.
Bonus consideration will be given for Harrisons’ 100-yard interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl 43. Dubbed the “Immaculate Interception,” the play remains the longest touchdown in Super Bowl history.
It’s tough to get in as a first-ballot Hall of Famer, so Deebo may have to wait another year or two.
The list of 129 modern-era finalists was announced in September. Fifteen modern-era finalists will be presented in January and the enshrinees in February. The Pro Football Hall of Fame’s 2023 Class will be enshrined in August 2023.