It somehow doesn’t seem possible, but in 2017, Hines Ward will be eligible to be voted into the NFL Hall of Fame. What’s even harder to believe, is that there are those who suggest that his credentials may not be Hall of Fame worthy. Ward finished his career with 1,000 receptions, which were good for 12,083 yards and 85 touchdowns. He is a two time Super Bowl champion and the MVP of Super Bowl XL. On top of those stats, Hines Ward just might be the best blocking wide receiver in NFL history as well. So good in fact, that the NFL changed the rules for what was considered a legal block, shortly after Hines knocked, Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers, unconscious, breaking his jaw in the process. Ward’s other knockout victims also include Willis McGahee, Rod Woodson and Ed Reed. For those who continue to say Hines Ward is not a Hall of Fame wide receiver, they just don’t have a clue.
Unlike high profile receivers such as Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens, and Marvin Harrison, who all played in explosive, passing dominated offenses, Ward played in an offense which featured a smashmouth running game led by Jerome Bettis. While the above named receivers had Joe Montana, Steve Young, and Peyton Manning throwing them the ball, Ward was catching passes from guys like Kordell Stewart, Mike Tomczak, Kent Graham, Tee Martin and Tommy Maddox, for the first half of his career. Even though he had Ben Roethlisberger as his quarterback from 2004 on, the offense was still run dominated for the most part. Coming from the style of offense that he did, it gives Ward somewhat of an advantage, because he has a better all around game than most of the big name receivers of his, or almost any era. Hines Ward is currently one of only 13 receivers in NFL History to have finished their career’s with 1,000 or more receptions. He finished with 8 more receptions than Randy Moss, and his 85 touchdown catches tie him with Paul Warfield and Lance Alworth. Two questions that should be asked are, how many of those high profile receivers would have thrived in the Steelers offense the way Hines did?, and, how many of them would have matched his production?
While it’s not quite fair to judge Hines Ward’s numbers against those of Rice, Owens or Harrison, because of the passing offenses they played in, there are two Hall of Fame receivers that provide a more fair comparison for Hines, Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. Like Hines, both Swann and Stallworth played in run oriented offenses for most of their careers with the exception of 78-80, when the Mel Blount rule helped open up the offense. Swann and Stallworth had Bradshaw, while Ward had Ben. Swann and Stallworth were good blocking receivers for Franco, while Ward blew up defenders in support of the Bus. Swann and Stallworth won four Super Bowls in four trips. Hines won two Super Bowls in three trips. As closely as the careers of these receivers parallel one another, Ward’s numbers, compared to Swann and Stallworth’s, will validate his Hall of Fame credentials. Since Lynn Swann only played in the NFL for nine seasons, we’ll look at the best 9 consecutive years for John Stallworth and Hines, to compare all three receivers. For Swann, it covers his career from 74-82, for Stallworth it covers 79-87, and Ward from 01-09.
Over Lynn Swann’s nine year career, he came up with many highlight reel moments, including his iconic catches on the biggest stage, which helped him earn his Gold Jacket. Over the course of his nine year career, he averaged 37 receptions a year, 606 yards and 5 touchdowns. Swann’s partner in crime, on the other side of the field, had his best nine seasons from 79-87. During that time, Stallworth had to deal with some pretty bad quarterback play himself, much like Ward in his early years. Over that period of time, Stallworth averaged 45 catches, 704 yards and 3 touchdowns per season. How does Hines Ward and his best nine seasons compare to Swann and Stallworth’s? From 2001-2009, Hines Ward did his finest work. Besides delivering four knockout blows during that time, Hines caught a few balls as well. During those nine seasons, Hines had a yearly average of 85 receptions, 1,043 yards and 7 touchdowns. During his nine year period, Stallworth had Swann and Louis Lipps while Ward had Plaxico Burress and Santonio Holmes. Ward’s nine year numbers compared to those of two all-time greats show that he belongs in Canton with them. To those who still say that Hines Ward is not a Hall of Fame receiver, Hines is a Hall of Fame football player who played the wide receiver position. He also just might be the one of the best all around receivers to ever play the game. While he may not be a first ballot electee, Hines Ward is more than worthy of induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.