(EDITOR’S NOTE: To listen to the Alan Faneca interview log on to the following attachment: Ep 32: HOFer Alan Faneca Joins the Shows (spreaker.com)
To understand how valuable – or invaluable — former wide receiver Hines Ward was a Pittsburgh Steelers team that went to three Super Bowls in six years (2005-10) don’t consult a stat sheet. In fact, that’s not really advised. Instead, find a videotape and rewind it to the start of any season Ward played.
Then sit back and watch.
What you find is Ward making the critical catches, scoring the critical TDs, and throwing the critical blocks. In short, doing just about everything. Which is why he was a three-time Steelers’ MVP and Super Bowl MVP.
But it’s also why his former teammate, guard Alan Faneca, is calling for Ward to join him one day in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. One of the game’s most decorated guards, Faneca last month was elected to Canton’s Class of 2021 after waiting six years.
Ward hasn’t been as fortunate. He’s been one of 25 semifinalists in his first five years of eligibility but never graduated to the Final 15. Faneca insists that should happen … and sooner rather than later.
“Could you see a day that Hines Ward would be fitted for a Gold Jacket,” he was asked on the latest “Eye Test for Two” podcast.
“My first answer to that is: I better,” said Faneca. “Because he deserves it. He absolutely, 100 percent deserves it.”
Persons outside the 412 area code might disagree because Ward didn’t compile the numbers of, say, a Reggie Wayne or Torry Holt. Both were Hall-of-Fame finalists the past two years. Nor does he have the catches or yards of Anquan Boldin, Steve Smith Jr., and Andre Johnson – all of whom are eligible in 2022.
Still, he set a Steelers’ record (since broken) in 2005 for receptions (112) and receiving TDs (12) and four times eclipsed 1,000 yards in catches. His 12,083 career yards receiving rank 26th all time, or just behind Hall-of-Famer Charlie Joiner (12,146) and just ahead of Hall-of-Famer Michael Irvin (11,904). And while 16th in career receiving TDs, he’s tied with Hall-of-Famers Lance Alworth and Paul Warfield … and ahead of newly minted Calvin Johnson (83), a member of the Hall’s Class of 2021, as well as Smith, Boldin, and Johnson.
But anyone who saw Ward knows he was more than a receiver. He was one of the game’s most effective blockers. He made the big catches, too. He could run. And, if necessary, he could throw. Plus, he was always there – missing only seven games in a 14-year career.
“He doesn’t have the numbers per se that other receivers are going to have,” said Faneca, “so I think he kind of falls (into a category) like we talked about offensive guards, offensive linemen. The things that he did … they might not add up, and he might not have the stats, but the impact he had on the game when he went out there and played it (are what made him special).
“People tuned in to watch Hines Ward and to see what Hines Ward was doing. They came to games to see Hines and see the big hits and the blocks and the big plays and the reverses and the passes. They came to see Hines Ward. He deserves that Gold Jacket, and I just hope that one day he gets it, and he’s not 60, 70 years old when he gets it. Because he deserves to get it and enjoy it.”
Hall-of-Fame voters are not unlike others in today’s sports business, guided at times by analytics and arcane numbers. But numbers don’t tell the story of Ward, and blocking is the best example. Ward was renowned as one of the best at his position, yet look for impact blocks on a stat sheet.
You can’t find them.
But you could on the football field. Ward was such a vicious hitter that after sidelining Cincinnati’s Keith Rivers with a blind-side hit in 2008, the NFL passed “the Hines Ward rule” outlawing such blocks.
Ward was not penalized for the hit. Nor was he fined. But he got the league’s attention, as well as that of teammates like Faneca, who not only teamed with Ward but learned from him. And what he learned, he said, made him better as a left guard.
“Man, he did things that I would try to emulate,” he said. “I would watch Hines do something, and I’d be like: ‘All right, I need to pick up on that anytime I pull out on the edge. (I learned from) just the way he would manipulate people and set them up. He was the king of setting people up, and they didn’t even know it.
“One of the things that I started to do as I played on (was) I learned how to (do that). When you’re pulling … let’s say you’re pulling on a power to the right and this guy just gets totally taken out. He just bites it, right? A lot of guys would just stay with that guy. (But) I picked this up from Hines: ‘You have a vision for when a guy is taken out of a play; he’s taken himself out. Let’s go get somebody else.’
“I totally learned that from Hines, watching him play out there. He had such a good vision for figuring out who was going to (have) an effect on defense and who wasn’t. Just the things he did out there were amazing. If you put a highlight reel (together) of him and his hits and his blocks and what he was able to do on the field it’d be really long.”