Having scored a total of 124 points in their past three games, all wins, the Steelers are on quite the midseason roll. For longtime Pittsburgh fans, that’s nothing new. After all, the team went on a helluva run in 2005, an eight-game winning streak that culminated with the franchise’s fifth Super Bowl victory, 21-10 over the Seattle Seahawks.
While that score indicates a healthy margin, those who watched the game remember a tight matchup with controversial officiating. Then, up 14-10 in the fourth quarter, the Steelers got tricky. Ben Roethlisberger pitched to Willie Parker, who handed off to Antwaan Randle El, who unleashed a downfield bomb. And 43 yards later, Hines Ward was leaping into the end zone, igniting his team’s hopes and burying Seattle’s.
At the Degree DO:MORE Combine, we caught up with the undersized Steelers legend to ask about the play that helped him win the MVP award… and his team win the Lombardi Trophy.
“The ball stayed up there forever. I kept thinking about the Lucas movie—‘Don’t throw it to Lucas!’—as it’s coming down. So when I caught it, instantly I just started jumping for joy.”
Super Bowl XL was a pretty big day for you. Tell me about the play that changed the game.
I remember we set that play up earlier in the quarter. We ran the ball. I came down and I lit the safety up. I came to the sidelines and said, “Hey, that play is all set up.”
So you ran a similar formation, and you were blocking as if it were a running play?
Yeah, I blocked the safety and the safety got hurt, but the key was, Hey, Hines loves to block the safety. That’s why I’m so aggressive, it kind of sets up the play-action because they don’t know if I’m coming after them full speed or I could run right past them.
I said to Randle El: “Listen, I’ve been telling you all day at practice, don’t overthrow me. I’m going to be wide open.” And then when Ben called it our eyes kind of just locked and… the story behind that is, Antwaan Randle El always wanted to play quarterback in the NFL…
So here we are in the Super Bowl and he’s got an opportunity, and he threw a perfect spiral. And my worst dream as a wide receiver is dropping the game-winning touchdown pass. And the ball stayed up there forever. All I kept thinking about was the Lucas movie—“Don’t throw it to Lucas!”—as it’s coming down. So when I caught it, instantly I just started jumping for joy.
Yeah, that’s kind of an iconic moment, you jumping in the end zone.
All I kept thinking about was, I’m playing on the biggest stage, where as a kid I’ve always dreamt of playing. And now I’m scoring a touchdown to maybe help our team win. I wasn’t even thinking about the MVP, just scoring and seeing the crowd go crazy…
That must have been a great feeling.
I can’t even describe it because I just helped bring a Super Bowl back to the city of Pittsburgh. I scored a touchdown that helped this dream come true for so many people. Not just for myself personally, but for Coach Cowher, getting that monkey off his back. For my teammates, for the fans who missed the teams in the seventies, the younger generation now having a chance to say, “We’re Super Bowl Champions.” It was great to have my name cemented, a part of history with the Pittsburgh Steelers. That’s something that no one can ever take away.
You know a wide receiver’s got game when he can catch passes from a guy who types for a living…
How did Seattle react? Did you feel like you were going to win the Super Bowl at that point?
Yeah, it took the air out of them. You could just see their heads were down. We gained momentum. Our crowd was going crazy and we just fed off that. Coach Cowher would always say there are four or five big plays within a game that change the outcome. We had Willie Parker’s long run. And luckily for me, that catch was the play that sewed it up for us.
When you came back to the sidelines, did Cowher or anybody else say anything to you?
Randle El said, “You told me not to overthrow you.” It’s probably the best pass in that game. I was happy for El because he lived his dream.
That season, you guys were 7-5, then you won four straight to make the playoffs. Then you won three straight on the road. So by the time you got to the Super Bowl, did you feel like it was destiny?
Yeah, it was destiny. We felt like no one could stop us. We came too far. We had to overcome so much to get to that point that it was just crazy. We needed to win the last four to get in. No team was going to stop us. We weren’t going to be denied.
So what was better, that moment or winning Dancing with the Stars?
Ha ha, well, Dancing with the Stars wasn’t a dream of mine. It was just a great opportunity, but that was life-changing too because now it put me in a category where I was more than just a football player. Now elderly women recognize me at the gas station and stuff like that.
Ha ha, yeah.
But being named Super Bowl MVP, that was a dream of mine as a kid. I used to emulate whoever won that MVP trophy the next day at recess. I was going to be Joe Montana, I was going to be Jerry Rice. And then as I was standing up there with my son, I wanted him to cherish that. At the greatest moment of my life, I’m holding you, my son, because I never want you… because my father wasn’t there for me. But in the back of my mind, I thought, if there’s a young kid that’s going to wake up tomorrow and say he’s Hines Ward? It was almost surreal to actually live it. It’s the greatest feeling in the world.
I have one more question because this is about doing more, and obviously that was a day where you did more. Any advice for our readers?
Here’s a motto that somebody always used to tell me: Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.
You may not be the most talented, but if you do more and put in the hard work, it’ll pay off. And that’s kind of indicative of my career. Guys may have been more talented, but I beat the odds by working harder. If you apply that to whatever you do in life, that’s all that matters.