Hines Ward isn't afraid to flash a smile for the cameras.
Michael J. LeBrecht II/1Deuce3 Photography
As told to Peter King
ON PRE-NFL ASSIGNMENTS I was a quarterback at Forest Park (Ga.) High. Then my freshman year at Georgia I played running back, but at 165 pounds I took a pounding. They moved me to receiver as a sophomore, and my first game I had 100 yards receiving. Then we had injuries, and I was back at running back for the next two games. Then the quarterback, Mike Bobo, went down, and I started six games at QB. We ended up 6-6, went to the Peach Bowl, and I passed for 413 yards. How crazy is that?
ON WHY HE WASN'T TAKEN UNTIL THE THIRD ROUND OF THE 1998 DRAFT I guess I was a jack-of-all-trades, master of none.
ON HIS FIRST YEARS I was born in Seoul. My mom's Korean. My dad [Hines Ward Sr.] was in the military. We moved to the U.S. when I was one, and my parents got divorced. My dad remarried, and the courts wouldn't let me live with my mom. They said she was an unfit parent because she couldn't speak English and had no way to support us. So early on I lived with my dad and stepmom.
ON BEING REUNITED WITH HIS MOTHER, YOUNG HE WARD I went to live with her when I was in second grade. She was amazing. She had three jobs. Cleaned dishes at the Atlanta airport. Cleaned hotels. Was a grocery-store cashier. She'd work till two in the morning, then get up to make me breakfast before her airport job. She'd come home from that, and before she left for her next job, she'd have lunch on the table for me when I came home from school. I could never, ever repay my mother for everything she did for me.
ON HIS MOTHER'S LASTING LESSON Humility. Through all my success, the wins, the Pro Bowls, she tells me, 'Be grateful for your opportunity. Be humble.' She still works, at a high school cafeteria, and when I go there to have lunch with her, the people say, 'Man, your mom works harder than anyone.' That makes me so proud. That's how her life has been. My mother wanted no government assistance. Nobody gave her nothing. Like me in the NFL. Nobody's given me anything.
ON PASSING LYNN SWANN AND TRAILING ONLY JOHN STALLWORTH ON THE STEELERS' ALLTIME RECEIVING LIST Just incredible. Here I am, a third-round pick, a special teams guy when I came into the league. To be even mentioned in the same sentence with those two Hall of Famers -- words can't describe how satisfying that is.
ON WHAT HE DOES TO IMPROVE I take notes on everything. I watch my game, I watch the games of the team we're playing, I look at coverage. Can I pick up coverage before the route starts? I might write down, 'Be patient on the route with this cornerback. Don't give it away. Come off the ball hard. Come off the ball the same on a run as on a pass play.'
ON THE BIG HIT The hardest I was ever hit was by [Patriots safety] Rodney Harrison when he was with San Diego. I caught a pass, and as soon as I caught it, bam! He hit me straight up. My chin strap was on my eyebrows. I got right up and smiled. After the game, he said to me, 'Man, you're one tough son of a bitch.' Great moment for me.
ON NEVER MISSING A HIGH SCHOOL, COLLEGE OR PRO GAME DUE TO INJURY It's the passion, I guess. If I can walk, I can play, and I want to play.
ON THE BEST PART OF AUTUMN SUNDAYS Driving to home games, seeing people I've never met wearing my jersey. I try to play so hard for those guys. I think fans cling to me because I'm a blue-collar guy in a blue-collar city.
ON ROETHLISBERGERMANIA Ben's a really good kid. I went into Pepi's [a Pittsburgh restaurant], and they offered me a Roethlis-burger. But they said it's no good without that Hines on it.
ON BILL COWHER'S SPIT SHOWER It happened to me my rookie year, in a preseason game. I got called for holding. He preached, 'Never hold!' So I go back to the sideline, he calls me over, and he's chewing me out and spitting at me so hard I've got to turn my head. A little later he said, 'Don't worry about it. You'll be fine.'
WARD, 28, IS HEADED TO HIS FOURTH PRO BOWL AND HAD 105 RECEIVING YARDS AND A TD LAST WEEK. THE STEELERS HOST THE PATS ON SUNDAY