Knock him off his feet with a truculent blow and he'd get up smiling.
Catch him off guard with a blindside hit and he'd be grinning from ear to ear. Serve him up a spine-tingling wallop and he'd probably even order seconds, then leave a tip for good measure.
Former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward epitomized the hard-nosed, in-your-face brand of football the team has embodied throughout the years, and led by his actions on the field.
But for the first time in over 14 seasons, the Steelers will be missing the pearly whites of the gritty veteran flanking their quarterback when they open their season this Sunday against the Denver Broncos.
Pittsburgh released the Seoul, South Korea native
earlier this year (who later retired
to join the broadcast booth) and replacing him in its backfield will be much easier said than done.
Ward was part of a dying breed in this age of prima donna wideouts where flashy acrobatics and attention-seeking celebrations have become the norm.
The four-time Pro Bowler and former Super Bowl MVP played more like a fullback in some aspects and was considered one of the best blocking receivers in the game during his tenure.
Ward, 36, provided an extra safety blanket for Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in more ways than one. He was the go-to guy in crucial short-yardage passing situations - he's the club's all-time leader in receptions (1,000) and receiving touchdowns (85).
Some would say he was cheap - he was twice named the NFL's dirtiest player in Sports Illustrated player polls and inspired a principle unofficially known as the 'Hines Ward Rule' limiting blindside blocks -- but I would argue he played with an edge and had the cognizance and instincts of a linebacker. They're invaluable traits that can't really be taught to a wide receiver.Intangible qualities
It's those intangible qualities the Steelers' current receiving corps sorely lacks, and likely something Roethlisberger wishes he had back. He even told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that "Hines is Black and Gold," when news of his release was announced.
While receiver Mike Wallace provides a lethal deep threat and without a doubt is one of the game's best emerging stars, he's not known for his ability to block or take punishing blows. Antonio Brown is another speedster, but the strengths of this tandem will be largely to keep opposing defences honest and hopefully create space for the running game.
It may force offensive co-ordinator Todd Haley to alter his team's attack and entrust Roethlisberger's arm with leading them downfield (which, granted, may not be a bad thing considering the pivot ranked ninth in the NFL in passing yards with 4,077 last season).
But his success will ultimately come down to pass protection - he was sacked 40 times last year, tied for third-most in the league.
The Steelers' offensive potency has traditionally been centred on the run, and with an ailing Rashard Mendenhall and a shaky offensive line (can centre Maurkice Pouncey stay healthy?), someone will have to step into Ward's role and help reinforce the team's hard-nosed culture.
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