- The Washington Times - Monday, February 6, 2006

DETROIT — With apologies to the ketchup kings, the Pittsburgh Steelers might want to rename their stadium Hines Field.

Hines Ward earned MVP honors in the Steelers’ 21-10 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL on Sunday night with 123 yards and a touchdown on five catches.

Considering Ward has put up numbers worthy of Hall of Fame predecessors John Stallworth and Lynn Swann during his eight years in Pittsburgh, his MVP performance was no surprise. Except that six months ago Ward was holding out.

Ward could have become another troublesome NFL receiver in the mold of the walking headache on the other side of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia’s Terrell Owens. Instead, Ward — after some counseling from team leader Jerome Bettis and the promise of a big contract extension from coach Bill Cowher — returned to the team after a two-week absence.

The Steelers kept their word in September with a four-year, $25.83 million extension, including $10 million in bonuses. Ward said the contract was “far more than what I expected.” It will keep him in Pittsburgh through 2009, when he will be 33 and likely will have put Stallworth and Swann behind him in the record books.

“Jerome told me you can’t take it personal, it’s strictly business,” Ward said. “I tried to approach it businesslike. I really didn’t want to make it a media circus. Do I regret it? No. It was a road I had to come across. Coach Cowher and I had a talk and kind of laid everything out. It was something I needed to hear from him personally. The last thing I said was, ‘Let’s go win a Super Bowl.’”

Ward’s 69 catches and 975 yards were his fewest since 2000, but he led the team with 11 touchdowns. And Ward excelled in the postseason with 10 catches for 201 yards and two scores.

Ward had played in three AFC Championship games and four Pro Bowls, but he vomited from an XL case of nerves Sunday.

“I got so sick pregame that I asked [2001 MVP] Ray Lewis, ‘Is it all right to be nervous like this?’” Ward said. “He looked over and said, ‘All the great ones do. Just go out and play.’”

After failing to hold on to what could have been a scoring pass from Ben Roethlisberger, Ward got free two plays later for a 37-yard catch on third-and-28 that set up the game’s first touchdown with 1:55 to go in the first half. Ward also had grabs of 12, 15 (at his shoe tops) and 16 yards and a run of 18 yards before hauling in the 43-yard touchdown from receiver Antwaan Randle El that clinched the victory with 8:56 left.

“Hines is such an athlete,” Seahawks cornerback Kelly Herndon said. “He can do it all. He can run. He can throw [Ward was a quarterback at Georgia]. He’s a good route-runner with good hands.”

Ward is just the fifth receiver to be named the MVP, joining last year’s winner, New England’s Deion Branch, all-time leading receiver Jerry Rice and Hall of Famers Swann and Fred Biletnikoff.

“People are always comparing me to Lynn Swann and John Stallworth,” Ward said. “That was a great comparison, but there was something I didn’t have that they had, which was a Super Bowl ring. They made names for themselves in the Super Bowl. So I kind of feel like I’m in their class now. Those guys made big plays in the Super Bowl to help their team win, and yesterday I did the same.”

As the MVP, Ward, whose right arm sports a tattoo of a smiling Mickey Mouse holding a football in the Heisman Trophy pose, got to say “I’m going to Disney World.”

“People ask me, ‘Why are you always smiling when you’re playing?’” Ward said. “That’s who I am. I genuinely love to play.”

And Cowher loves coaching him.

“Hines has been a warrior for us,” Cowher said. “I’m just so glad that they got [the contract] done. He’s a tough player, a dependable player and a really good player. You talk about guys being unselfish, about guys being tough, Hines represents all that.”

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