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Posted at 08:43 AM ET, 03/21/2012

Hines Ward retires and Hall of Fame debate begins

As Hines Ward makes his announcement, Coach Mike Tomlin, General Manager Kevin Colbert, and Steelers President and co-owner Art J. Rooney II (left to right) look on. (Gene J. Puskar / AP)
While Peyton Manning was making a splash out in the Rockies, Hines Ward was quietly, tearfully retiring from the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Which means that now the debate about whether he belongs in the Hall of Fame can officially begin. Ward was cut by the Steelers, who are moving to make their roster less elderly, earlier this month and considered trying to player for another team. At 36, it wasn’t likely, though, and Ward takes with him a reputation for tenacity and for adding another dimension to receiving. “He's probably the first receiver to make blocking such a big part of his game,” Cincinnati Bengals safety Chris Crocker said.

Hines Ward gets a hug from Coach Mike Tomlin. (Gene J. Puskar / AP)
“... He was a dirty player, but he made a lot of plays. They used him perfectly to suit his abilities, and he was a big-time player for them. Some people might think of him as a borderline Hall of Famer, but I think the fact he helped them win two Super Bowls and all the things he did for that team make him deserving.”

Ah, the “D” word. Crocker’s arrival in Cincinnati came after Ward had thrown a block on linebacker Keith Rivers, breaking his jaw in 2008. A year later, Crocker said Ward had punched him in the face. “Stuff like that, it's just not right,” Crocker said. “And I'm not the only guy that thinks it.”

But what about the Hall of Fame? Mike Florio makes a case for him:

Ward’s credentials include something the Andre Reeds and Cris Carters and Tim Browns and (in time) Terrell Owens and Randy Mosses don’t:  a Super Bowl ring.  More accurately, two of them.  (Having a Super Bowl MVP trophy doesn’t hurt, either.)
The fact that he generated 1,000 receptions (eighth on the all-time list) for 12,083 yards (18th) and 85 touchdowns (13th) despite playing for a team that doesn’t exactly air it out makes his numbers more impressive.
Then there’s the fact that Ward has more career catches that Steelers Hall of Fame wideouts John Stallworth and Lynn Swann, combined.
Throw in a reputation for being a tenacious blocker with an infectious smile and no inclination to act like a diva, and Ward becomes a legitimate candidate for Canton.

Still, wide receivers like Cris Carter, Andre Reed and Tim Brown aren’t in the Hall because, Carter says, voters don’t appreciate them. Should Ward be enshrined?

By  |  08:43 AM ET, 03/21/2012

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