PITTSBURGH - It ended after 14 years, and with plenty of tears.
Hines Ward dressed in the business version of black and gold and announced his retirement on Tuesday, ending one of the Pittsburgh Steelers' most remarkable careers.
The ultimate tough guy could barely contain his emotions as he read his statement. It can't be easy. A competitor like Ward will probably never find anything to replace the emotional rush of game day.
Sure, there are other challenges ahead. He's 36, old for football but not for real life.
Maybe there's a spot for him on TV somewhere. That's a cutthroat business, but waiting for overnight ratings can't compare to having 60,000 people cheer for you, or watching a defeated cornerback trudge back to his sideline.
If you know your Steelers history, you know it's always been more about tough guys than pretty boys.
Even the quarterbacks - Bobby Layne, Terry Bradshaw and Ben Roethlisberger - were rugged. Not a Joe Namath type among them.
Wide receiver isn't a position where you talk much about physical play, but Ward changed that.
He was such a dedicated blocker that the Steelers incorporated his skills into the running game. Ward's blocking on running plays was part of the plan, not incidental contact.
You could knock him down after a catch, and a lot of defensive backs and linebackers did. But you couldn't wipe that smile off his face.
Ward would bounce back up, grinning as he trotted back to the huddle to get ready for the next play. It was his favorite way to spend Sunday afternoons.
Knock him down again, and get another smile.
The respect came in the insults he heard from opposing players. Nobody infuriated opponents the way Ward did.
Never blessed with speed, Ward made himself a Pro Bowl player. He was an integral part of the Steelers' offense for 13 of his 14 years.
It became apparent during this past season that he was being phased out. The Steelers made that official when they released him.
Ward said there was "contact" from other teams, but stopped short of saying there was an offer.
There's no shame in coming to end of the line, especially when you consider the way Ward did it.
His football career is over because there's nothing left in the tank. He gave everything he had.
He gave it to the Steelers and this receiver, who was always considered too small and too slow to have the kind of impact he did, takes his rightful place alongside the franchise's very best.
It's a distinguished list, and Hines Ward fits very comfortably on it.
Mehno can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org