Veteran wide receiver Hines Ward will play for the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII.
He better play.
Ward sustained a knee sprain this past Sunday but will play in pain if he has to on Feb. 1 against the Arizona Cardinals. The Steelers probably need him as much as any player on their roster.
Ward's absence would be a big blow to the Steelers because they're probably going to need at least 20-some points to take down the Cardinals. They won the AFC Championship Game with him on the sideline for most of the game, but they can't afford to sit him in the Super Bowl.
Without Ward in the lineup, the Steelers' other three receivers are less effective. It's like a domino effect - Santonio Holmes becomes the guy other teams try to shut down and gets less looks, leading to more opportunities for Nate Washington and Limas Sweed, two guys who drop too many passes.
Washington is good as a third receiver but not nearly as strong in Ward's role. Sweed is just not ready for this stage.
Check it out
Buck Frank and Neil Rudel discuss the Steelers' win over Baltimore and look ahead at Super Bowl XLIII at altoonamirror.com
The Steelers overcame Sweed's blunder last Sunday, but a drop in a Super Bowl could be a big emotional letdown - as in Jackie Smith's for the Cowboys in Super Bowl XIII.
Ward has already shown he is a big-game receiver by already being a Super Bowl MVP, and he will help the Steelers move the chains to keep the Arizona offense off the field.
Take nearly anyone else out of the lineup, including Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu or Willie Parker, and the Steelers could fill in with a capable replacement. They need Ward for this game.
Old St. Louis Cards
While the Steelers were dominating the NFL in the 1970s, the Cardinals, then playing in St. Louis, had a good collection of players but never reached the elite level.
With guys like Jim Hart, Terry Metcalf, Dan Dierdorf, Conrad Dobler and Mel Gray, the Cardinals were a fun team to watch during the 70s. Four members of the St. Louis Cardinals (1960-87) are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame - Dierdorf, Larry Wilson, Roger Wehrli and the same Jackie Smith who later played for the Cowboys.
The 1980s brought memorable names such as Neil Lomax, Stump Mitchell and Vai Sikahema.
The low point of those St. Louis years came in 1979 when J.V. Cain, a tight end drafted in the first round, died on his 28th birthday during training camp due to congenital heart failure. His number 88 is retired by the Cardinals.
The Cardinals gave up 47, 48 and 56 points in three different games during the regular season. The Steelers' worst three defensive outings were when they allowed 21, 24 and 31 points.
Buck Frank can be reached at 946-7461 or firstname.lastname@example.org.