By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
March 1, 2012
This is the era when just about everything accomplished on a football field is framed as an act of defiance: a football is spiked viciously; a breastbone is beaten repeatedly in thumping self-aggrandizement; a standard touchdown comes replete with posturing and screaming.
So let's remember this today: That is not how Hines Ward played football.
At the completion of perhaps the prettiest play in Super Bowl history, with Hines racing under an exquisite rollout pass from Antwaan Randle El to drown the Seattle Seahawks, the enduring emblem of Ward's career flashed blindingly into the annals of sports photography.
Oh my word, look at that beaming enamel as he carries the ball like a newborn into the Ford Field end zone. The NFL put it on a raft of official publications the next year; it was that iconic, that unusual.
Here's a guy playing football ... joyously!
Apparently it was still legal then.
So really, that's the era that ended Wednesday just short of dinner time, the era when football excellence could be conveyed as unrestrained fun rather than some dutiful execution of grim responsibility, some soulless quest for vengeance.
None of this will say the Steelers erred in any way when they released Ward after 14 seasons, but neither will it avoid the truth that they did indeed wipe the smile off their face.
"I gave my heart and soul to you every down," Ward said to Steelers fans in a statement that swiftly followed Art Rooney II's announcement that No. 86 won't be back. "And I will always bleed black and gold."
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