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Hines Ward’s retirement: A Clevelander looks back

Getty ImagesHines Ward’s Last Hurrah, HurdleHines Ward personified all things evil within the National Football League. The deflating third-and-long receptions and the heart-breaking touchdowns. Hauling in countless passes from men who were equally despised, Ward always seemed to have a knack for nailing down the lid to coffin of hope. Defensive backs were essentially man-handled in the run game with blind-side, open-field blocks. And that never-ending smile, the one that incensed the opposition and their respective fans alike. Oh, that smile.A 15-year veteran, Ward holds nearly every receiving record which lies in the mustachioed halls of Pittsburgh Steelers lore. In addition to all he did with the ball in hand, Ward is also the proud owner of a reputation for being a “dirty” player. Cincinnati Bengals safety Chris Crocker recently claimed that Ward “tried to end people’s careers,” forcing defensive players to defend themselves with as much effort as that put forth toward their own end zone. It was Ward who led the NFL to make a rule to actually protect the defenders from hard-hitting wide receivers – 15-yard penalties for all blind-side blocks involving a helmet, forearm or shoulder.At 36 years of age, Cleveland Browns fans know Ward all too well.  Perhaps not as well as Keith Rivers or Ed Reed or Daven Holly or Bart Scott, but the 14-year relationship with Ward is one of many memories, some better than others. Upon their return in 1999, the Browns were greeted by their bitter rival. Some homecoming that turned out to be; the final score was a 43-0 shellacking in front of the lakefront crowd. Ward, making up for lost time in the wake of the Browns’ absence, hauled in three passes including one touchdown, his first of many against the Cleveland Franchise. His 1,000th and final NFL reception, fittingly, occurred within the confines of Cleveland Browns Stadium. Previous WFNY Browns coverage More From WFNYSuper Bowl XL was one of the ugliest championship games in recent memory. It would only make sense that Ward, a scrappy player on a team that barely even made the playoffs, would leave with the MVP trophy and his first of two Super Bowl rings. Making things worse, he did so by being a recipient of a highly-controversial blood transfusion. The evil would even transcended to reality television where Ward, with that maniacal smile plastered on his 6-foot frame, took home the God awful Mirror Ball trophy on Dancing with the Stars. Does it get any worse that that?But with tears in his eyes, dressed in an all-too-familiar black, and a legacy unmatched long-time Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward decided to finally call it a career. Rather than playing on, like many before him, for a foreign franchise, Ward – who insists he can still play the game at a high level – will ultimately let a salary cap maneuver set the sun. A receiver on a team known mostly – until recently – for their running game, rarely a player to ever crack the top-10 at his position during any given season, never among the most athletic or most publicized, Ward’s game was rooted entirely in all things loathsome.Draped in that rod and cone-gauging black and gold, with that flash of white gleaming from his teeth, Ward drew the ire of the majority, something that’s very difficult to do without committing a laundry list of crimes or holding a nationally televised press conference regarding free agency.  The path of destruction, the trail of opponent fan tears. In a poll conducted in 2009, Ward’s peers would not even consider him “tough” due to how he played the game. The Dean of disdain.And I wish he spent the last 15 years on my team.–Follow WFNY’s Scott on Twitter 

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