Streak ends, but legacy will live on
Steelers fans might want to forget the team's terrible performance against New England two weeks ago, but it is a game that Hines Ward will never forget.
A concussion put Ward on the sidelines early, shattering his streak of 186 consecutive games with a catch.
It was the longest streak among current wide receivers. The closest receiver on the field that day was Wes Welker with 72 games. As an all-time record, only Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison were ahead of him. If not for the concussion, Ward would have tied Harrison next week.
With the league's focus on preventing head injuries, Ward, Harrison and Rice may be locked into the top three all-time positions forever.
I was at that game and gained a new level of respect for Ward's toughness.
After the trainers took his helmet away, he repeatedly lobbied head trainer John Norwig and anyone who would listen to get back onto the field.
He never left the sidelines, worked with other players and stayed as close to the playing field as anyone, including the coaches.
As medical science struggles to figure out the long-term potential for damage caused by head injuries, I can't argue with the NFL's more cautious policy but might quibble about some recent enforcement decisions.
Nevertheless, if I were in the NFL, I would want to have someone with Ward's determination by my side.
Ward's value to the Steelers goes well beyond the catches he has made. He has instilled a quiet professionalism that may be the most important element in achieving two recent Super Bowl victories and getting the team through this season's quarterback uncertainties.
Mike Wallace, in particular, is a more complete receiver as a result of Ward's mentoring.
For youngsters who are trying to make it in athletics, Ward offers a model of what can be achieved though hard work and persistence. His struggles as a child have been well chronicled, and as a third-round draft choice in 1998, 91 players were selected before him.
Receivers with much more speed and raw ability have come and gone since his NFL debut, yet no receiver in Steelers history has built a more impressive resume.
Opposing linemen often outweigh him by more than 70 pounds. Yet he'll throw a block at anyone and does other things that will never show up in game statistics. This often makes him a despised target for rival defenses. Still, he has more career catches than Hall of Famers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth combined.
The Steelers are in a position to make a playoff run this year, but injuries might catch up with them. However, if Hines Ward remains healthy, I would not bet against the black and gold.
On the heels of Black Friday shopping sprees, it might be appropriate to focus this week's column on someone with a degree in consumer economics.
In a strange way, Ward has been applying the lessons of his collegiate major while playing for the Steelers.
Football fans have gotten more than their money's worth in watching Hines Ward.
Trumpbour is a communications professor at Penn State Altoona and a frequent contributor to Voice of the Fan.