My husband, Scott, and I had the opportunity to attend the Super Bowl in Phoenix. If you recall a Jan. 31 Altoona Mirror story (Altoona man wins Super Bowl tickets), that was us!
During our trip, we met several players, including St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson, Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne and San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trent Dilfer, as well as several others.
The most impressive player we met was Steelers standout receiver Hines Ward. As a Baltimore Ravens fan, I have spent the past several years rooting against Hines Ward. After meeting him in person, I have a newfound respect for a player who has caused Ravens fans so much heartache.
During a special dinner, Ward talked with Scott and I for quite awhile, probably because we told him we were from Altoona; we neglected to tell him we were not Steelers fans. He was as genuine a person as one would expect him to be. From life in the NFL, to his days back in Georgia, to his biggest hobbies, no topic was off-limits.
He started telling us how he was really upset about the media’s portrayal of the so-called spat between he and Ben Roethlisberger over Ben supposedly wanting a tall receiver.
“I was just asked a question and I answered it. I didn’t think anything of it, and I was just answering it honestly,” Ward said.
He continued about how he had no idea it would be an issue until he saw his quote on ESPN the next day.
My husband chimed in that Ward had nothing to worry about. No one from Steelers country really believed that he was causing any problems. Ward has a solid reputation as being a team player. Scott then asked about life in the NFL. Besides earning another Super Bowl ring, Ward wants to reach the 10,000-career receiving yard plateau.
Right now he is 1,363 yards away from accomplishing this goal. Barring injury, that is an accomplishment he could achieve in two years. When we asked how much time remains until he retires, Ward said he may have another three or four years left in him. It is difficult for Ward to get out of bed, he said, until Wednesday after a game.
I was especially curious how he got along with players on other teams, and specifically what he thought of Ray Lewis.
Ward said he has no personal rifts with any players on other teams; he just hates playing against them.
“I will tell a guy, ‘Man, I hate playing against you.’ Then they will tell me, ‘I hate playing against you, too,’” he said, laughing.
As far as what he thought of Lewis, they were hosting a NFL party together the following night, and they are friends off the field. Our final question for Ward was whom he wanted to win the Super Bowl.
He smiled and said since the Steelers were not there, he really did not care. It was not bitterness. He could not be a fan of the game the same way as the average fan. He has trained himself to analyze each play and each player as if he were going to play them the next week. He then looked at his golden, multi-diamond studded watch and said that he had to leave and was quickly on his way.
It was refreshing to meet an athlete who plays the game the way it is meant to be played, lives a clean life the way we want to imagine our athletes live and yet still has time for the fans.
As a Ravens fan, I hope Hines only has a few more years in him and quickly retires, but as a fan of the game, I hope he plays for many years to come.
He would look great in purple.
Kristy MacKaben is a freelance writer for the Mirror. This is her first submission to Voice of the Fan.