Jets’ Hines Ward finds him­self in ‘strange’ spot vs Steel­ers

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - SPORTS - By Den­nis Waszak Jr. AP Pro Foot­ball Writer

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) » Hines Ward has been a pop­u­lar guy this week — and he has the count­less voice­mails, texts and emails to prove it.

The Steel­ers are com­ing to town and the for­mer Pitts­burgh star wide re­ceiver has been hear­ing from friends and for­mer col­leagues who hope to catch up with the New York Jets’ of­fen­sive as­sis­tant coach.

“Yeah, I’ve got a lot of tick­ets,” Ward said Fri­day with a big smile. “My phone’s been blowing up. Just the whole or­ga­ni­za­tion. It’s kind of weird. I played my en­tire ca­reer there, so they want to go out to din­ner and things like that. It is Christ­mas week­end, New York City, so ev­ery­one wants to come in. “It will be spe­cial for me.” And he’d like noth­ing more than to cap it with a vic­tory over his for­mer team.

“I am a com­pet­i­tive guy,” Ward said. “I want to win. I want to beat the Steel­ers just as much as any­body in this build­ing. Trust me. I’m telling my guys they’ve got to win this one for me. I want the Ga­torade shower and all that if we win.

“I’m just thrilled about the op­por­tu­nity that it’ll be the first time in my ca­reer I ever rooted

against the Steel­ers.”

Ward caught 1,000 passes for 12,083 yards and 85 touch­downs — all fran­chise records — over 14 sea­sons in Pitts­burgh. He helped the Steel­ers win two Su­per Bowls, and was the game’s MVP in 2006 when they beat the Seat­tle Sea­hawks.

He was a re­li­able wide re­ceiver and one of the most phys­i­cal the game has seen. That made him an easy fan fa­vorite, and his black-and­gold No. 86 is still worn by fans in the stands at Heinz Field.

But just like for­mer Steel­ers run­ning back Le’Veon Bell, who’s now with the Jets, Ward will be the en­emy to the vis­it­ing Pitts­burgh fans at MetLife Sta­dium.

“Yeah, it will be a lit­tle strange for me,” the 43-yearold Ward ac­knowl­edged. “I’m su­per ex­cited about the op­por­tu­nity, dressed up in green and know­ing how Steeler Na­tion is go­ing to be out there. But I’m still a com­pet­i­tive guy. I want to do all that I can to pre­pare our guys to go out there and try to win games. At the end of the day, that’s re­ally what it’s all about.”

Ward re­tired af­ter the 2011 sea­son and dab­bled in tele­vi­sion. He ap­peared on the ABC re­al­ity com­pe­ti­tion “Danc­ing with the Stars” — and fox­trot­ted and cha-chacha’d all the way to the ti­tle. Ward also com­peted in the 2013 Iron­man World Cham­pi­onships.

But foot­ball still tugged at his heart.

He found his way back to the NFL in 2017 when he worked as a coach­ing in­tern for the Steel­ers dur­ing train­ing camp. Ward got in­volved in the now-de­funct Al­liance of Amer­i­can Foot­ball last win­ter as the league’s ex­ec­u­tive of player re­la­tions.

He served as a coach­ing in­tern again this sum­mer for the Jets af­ter gen­eral man­ager Joe Dou­glas reached out to the for­mer wide re­ceiver.

Sev­eral of New York’s re­ceivers raved about Ward, in­clud­ing Robby An­der­son, and were ex­cited about learn­ing from the four-time Pro Bowl se­lec­tion. Coach Adam Gase was so im­pressed, he asked Ward to stay on staff dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son as a full-time as­sis­tant work­ing along­side wide re­ceivers coach Shawn Jef­fer­son.

“There’s noth­ing like be­ing around a locker room and be­ing around an or­ga­ni­za­tion,” Ward said. “For me, I’ve been to the pin­na­cle. I’ve been to the moun­tain­top. I’ve been very blessed. I’ve got­ten ev­ery­thing I’ve wanted out of foot­ball, so I want to share that ex­pe­ri­ence, that knowl­edge with the younger guys. It’s re­ally all about help­ing guys and that’s the whole rea­son I wanted to get into coach­ing.

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