Hines Ward retired on Tuesday like he played every Sunday. Ward's tearful goodbye to Pittsburgh was overloaded with emotion: flowing tears, laughter, and thanks.
Other wide receivers posted better numbers than Ward over the last 14 years, but no one connected like Ward.
"To my fans and Steeler nation: No words can express how much you mean to me," Ward said.
In most cities, Ward was the player that fans loved to hate. Critics said his insanely aggressive (and effective) blocking tactics were dirty.
In Pittsburgh, Ward symbolized a franchise. He was the Steelers. That's what made Tuesday's press conference so powerful. Ward received some interest as a free agent from other teams, but he knew better than anyone that he wouldn't truly be Hines Ward without the black and gold on his uniform.
"I wouldn't feel right," Ward said. "I've been here for 14 years, so I just couldn't fathom myself putting on another uniform. Because I know the passion that I displayed on the field, it wouldn't be the same."
Over time, Ward gained appreciation from hardcore fans and novices alike. Ward was my wife's first favorite player when she started watching football. The reason was obvious: Ward wasn't the biggest guy, but his smile, his emotion stood out among a sea of faceless men behind helmets.
Ward didn't have the capacity as a player to withhold that emotion. His joy and frustrations with the game he loved were on display for everyone to see, right up to his farewell.