Steelers set to release Hines Ward after 14 seasons

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It seems that Pittsburgh Steelers fans will miss the ear-to-ear smile constantly found behind a black facemask trademark of Hines Ward over the last 14 seasons.

Or they would miss seeing it atop a uniform of black and gold.

Art Rooney II, president of the franchise, revealed on the website of the team on Wednesday that they will be releasing the all-time leader in the franchise.

Rooney said that they had had a conversation with Ward, and that they had told him of their plan of releasing him of his contract before the beginning of the NFL calendar year 2012.

He described Hines as having been a crucial part of the success of the Steelers, beginning from when he was drafted in 1998, adding that they will always appreciate all that he had helped the team to achieve.

Ward has been selected for Pro Bowl four times, having been chosen as MVP of Super Bowl 2006. As he ends his career life with the Steelers, he has 1,000 catches, 85 receiving touchdowns, and 12,083 yards to his name. He had helped the Steelers make three AFC championships as well as two wins in the Super Bowl.

Interestingly, the former champion of “Dancing with the Stars,” who also spent the last weekend at the Oscars, working the red carpet, does not seem to be eager to say goodbye to football as of yet.

He explained that this was not how he envisioned his career to end, and vowed that he intended to return next fall for a 15th season.

In a statement, Ward described himself as “still [having] more football left” in him, adding that he was eager to playing again in the NFL in the upcoming season.

Ward, who had been a third-round pick from Georgia, had quickly gained an image of being among the best blocking wide receivers of the league, which had endeared him to many a blue-collar fan of one of the marquee franchises of the league.

In the postseason, especially, Ward was known for being great at catching passes. He had assisted Pittsburgh to its fifth Super Bowl back in 2006, making a catch of five passes for 123 receiving yards and then making a touchdown, which resulted in a 21-10 victory over Seattle.

Rooney described Ward as meaning very much to the organization not just on field but also off-field. “We appreciate his efforts over the last 14 years,” he said.

Of course, apparently, his efforts may not have been enough to bring the player back at a contract of $4 million in the next season. Pittsburgh is currently in the middle of a salary purge roster-wide, along with a youth movement at the post of receiver.

Even during the 2011 season, this trend has resulted in Ward being left on the sidelines over long stretches while younger players like Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace became the favorite targets of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Despite this demotion, Ward took it all in stride and enjoyed his role as an elder statesman. Along with Emmanuel Sanders, Brown and Wallace credited Ward for helping the team mature on- as well as off-field, sharing that they all hoped he would come back for another season, but also expressed understanding of an era coming to an end.

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