Hines Ward's Holdout Affects All Steelers Fans - By Neal Coolong
Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial
|Jerseys make the arm-chair quarterback outfit. It says a lot about taste, knowledge of the game and the distinctive level of style on which you currently reside.
A poser can be easily pointed out by the jersey s/he wears to a game. Do you respect a fan still wearing a Kordell Stewart jersey? Can you consider a Yancey Thigpen jersey a throwback? If you answered "no" emphatically to both of these questions, you're the guy wearing a Troy Polamalu jersey to games, or even Aaron Smith. Lesser known, but equally dominant players for Pittsburgh.
I didn't always fit this mold.
Before we knew how he was going to become worthless on a football field, both SteelersBro and I received matching visiting Troy Edwards' jerseys for Christmas in 1999.
He quickly earned elite status in the Steelers Bust Draft Pick Hall of Fame. But in all honesty, it was my game shirt. I liked it because no one else except us had one. It stuck out.
It would have been nicer if he was a player who caught more than 23 passes a season, but hey, he was on the active roster.
What a fool I was.
I wore the Edwards jersey over two seasons, one the highly regrettable 2000 season (although we just missed the playoffs, and saw the best Kordell was ever going to give us over the last five games), and the remarkable run of 2001.
That season ended with Loss No. 1 to the Patriots, and it was obvious Edwards was getting the hook. With Antwaan Randle-El being the team's No. 2 pick in 2002, Edwards had a better chance of making that team than Hugh Grant does joining the IRA.
It was time for a new jersey. And this was a no-brainer.
THE Hines Ward.
The most vicious downfield blocker in the game. A WR with more tools than Fleet Farm. The face of Pittsburgh going into the new millennium.
My selection of Ward's jersey wasn't a tough decision. With his obvious talent and popularity, it was a good choice. 2001 was his breakout season, so Ward would be known enough to make the jersey cool, but rare enough to make it MEGA-cool.
The main thing was that I figured there was no way Pittsburgh was getting rid of him. Ever. He's more "Pittsburgh" than any other player on the roster. He's the guy you saw smiling through his helmet when he knocked former Steeler Rod Woodson unconscious in a game against The Hated Ravens in 2001.
He had a long enough contract that I knew I wasn't going to have to buy a jersey for at least four years, making it a smart investment for a broke college kid. You could tell he loved Pittsburgh like Bettis does, and would do whatever it took to stay in town.
I wore that jersey to every game and draft since then. I never even thought I might have to buy a new one sooner than expected. I never even considered I might come to the decision of wearing a jersey of a hold-out.
So what happened?
No one really batted an eyelash when Ward threatened to hold out last season for these same reasons. You just trusted the Rooneys enough to know they know how much Hines means to the team, the city and the fans.
We didn't even really feel an unsettling feeling in our stomach when two of Ward's three WR peers - Indianapolis' Marvin Harrison and Philadelphia's Terrell Owens - each got big extensions. We grumbled over blogs when we read the stat that based on salary cap money, Ward is the 37th highest paid WR in the game.
He's been out for a few days, and I've already imagined the most realistic scenarios this whole thing pans out - and not one of them has Ward in Pittsburgh through next year.
Pittsburgh could wait him out, standing firm to their policy of not negotiating with holdouts, guaranteeing Ward leaves via free agency next year. Ward could skip the entire season and demand a trade next year, plummeting his trade value to the point where Pittsburgh would be lucky to get a fourth-round pick or even Maurice Clarett for arguably the best all-around WR in the game.
It just doesn't look likely Pittsburgh is going to negotiate higher than they already have, and they sure aren't going to give him more money if he's not in camp.
Mr. Rock, meet Mr. Hard Place. That thing stuck in the middle? That's the fans.
It's a nasty game, and Ward has done everything asked of him to be compared in the same category as Owens, Harrison and Terrell Owens financially.
As a franchise, Pittsburgh has showed over the years they don't need to give huge extensions to win. It's the hypocrisy of an organization known for taking care of its own ignoring the needs of the glue who holds the team together vs. the team player who is asking for his share.
I am cautiously pessimistic about everything Steelers-related, so I fully admit he could be signing a five-year, $40 million extension as we speak making everything I just wrote null-and-void (like usual). It's not exactly Steelers-like to ink veterans to top-end money, but hey, who else there deserves it?
Pittsburgh offered him a big extension, he denied it. Ward countered, Pittsburgh denied it. This begins what could be a lengthly and bitter holdout, fought through the media and behind closed doors.
A distraction? Absolutely. There's no way a team's leader, captain and best all-around player not being in camp is going to go unnoticed. Certainly not with Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporter Mike Prisuta writing the team's chances off day-in and day-out like usual.
Most importantly, Randle-El and free agent signee Cedrick Wilson are charged with becoming Ward prototypes for the time being. Both are confident they can get the job done, and maybe they can. If the Steelers can rush for 2,000 as a team, all you're asking those guys to do (and probable third WR Lee Mays and TE Heath Miller) is catch the ball to move the chains. Let the defense - which doesn't have any holdouts although it wouldn't surprise me if LB Joey Porter rethinks his team after this whole fiasco - win the game.
I guess I need to possibly look for another jersey. SteelersBro saw this coming and upgraded to Edwards' replacement, Randle-El. Hampton's contract is up next year, and he'll be a tough sign.
We haven't heard anything negative from Polamalu's agent, have we?