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Hall call: Hines Ward

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Mike Beacom

msbeacom@yahoo.com
Contributing writer

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Posted Aug. 09, 2011 @ 11:07 a.m. ET
By Mike Beacom

Hines Ward might be entering his final NFL season. He already has hinted at retirement and Pittsburgh made a point of featuring Mike Wallace more in the passing game in 2010, perhaps preparing for life without their all-time leading receiver.

When Ward does hang up his cleats, how will his career measure up to the game's all-time great receivers? Well enough to warrant Canton discussion?

There is no more difficult Hall of Fame position to project right now than wide receiver, as no fewer than five quality candidates are already on the outside waiting to get in (six, if Randy Moss stays retired). That number will grow in the coming years, making Ward's bid all the more difficult.

Here is how his résumé stacks up right now …

Statistics: Ward's supporters like to point out that he has close to as many receiving yards (11,702) as Hall of Famers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth combined (14,741). To illustrate the irrelevancy of that apples-to-oranges comparison, consider that in the six years in which Pittsburgh won four Super Bowls (1974-79) with Swann and Stallworth, the offense averaged 192.8 completions. In the six-year period in which Ward's teams went to three Super Bowls (2005-10), Pittsburgh averaged 295.7 — clearly a different time. However, in his era, Ward's numbers are still difficult to ignore. He is approaching the magical milestone of 1,000 catches (954), and by the end of September he should rank among the top 20 in career receiving yards. That puts him in elite company. And his 83 receiving scores are respectable considering the run-first offenses in which he has played. As for his single-season totals, Ward's résumé is lacking. While consistency is in his corner, he has reached the 100-catch mark only once (2002), and has gained more than 75 yards per game in a season once (83.1 in ’02).

Success: Ward's trump card is his involvement on Pittsburgh's last three Super Bowl teams. He will score style points for his MVP performance in Super Bowl XL, and should receive recognition for having started in 14 playoff games (12th most all time). He also has been a clutch performer for Pittsburgh in the postseason, with 69.5 receiving yards per game and 10 touchdown receptions. There is no question Ward has been an integral component to those teams, and Hall of Fame voters tend to show favoritism toward players from winning teams.

HOF comparison: Charlie Joiner. Ward doesn't have the impressive yards-per-catch number that Joiner does (16.2), but both are similar in their approach to the game: Quiet, workmanlike, consistent.

Accolades: Ward has never made an All-Pro team, and his last Pro Bowl appearance came in 2004. Some would suggest All-Pro/Pro Bowl mentions are meaningless, but they demonstrate how well a player stacks up against his peers. Ward's four Pro Bowl appearances would place him at the lower end of Canton's receiving class, but not in unchartered territory (Art Monk and Joiner both have only three).

Intangibles: It's difficult to say whether Ward's reputation as one of the game's "all-time greatest blocking receivers" is warranted. There is no stat to separate great blockers from poor ones, but nevertheless we can safely separate Ward from his peers in this category. On film, we can see attitude and effort. We see his willingness to block downfield and play until the whistle. When it comes time for Pittsburgh's beat reporter to present him to the selection committee, that person will speak of these qualities. How much of an impact it has on the minds of voters is difficult to predict. As for off-the-field activity, Ward's likable personality is also an asset to his campaign, even though voters are told not to consider such things (human nature suggests it's almost impossible not to). Missteps, such as his offseason DUI charge, likely will be overshadowed (if not forgotten) due to Ward's charm and charitable nature.

First-ballot candidate: No

HOF probability: 75 percent. Before he can be fitted for the yellow jacket, others like Moss, Cris Carter, Tim Brown, Marvin Harrison, Andre Reed, Isaac Bruce, and Terrell Owens (depending on when he retires) must gain entrance first. But Ward's day will come.

 

Mike Beacom is a pro and college football writer whose work has appeared in numerous print and online sources. He is also the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Football (Alpha, 2010). Follow him on twitter @mbeac

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