Of course he recognized the man. If there had been even a moment's uncertainty; the jersey on his back—a generic red model decorated with the number 19 and the words MY SON—would have given him away. But when Georgia senior wide receiver Hines Ward stepped off the team bus at Sanford Stadium in Athens for the Bulldogs' Sept. 20 game against Northeast Louisiana, he knew instantly that it was his father, Hines Ward Sr. This was the same face he had seen at his high school graduation in 1994, after an eight-year stretch during which the only communication between father and son had been through annual phone calls explaining why there would again be no Christmas presents from Dad. It was the same lace that Hines had been stunned to see in the crowd two years before at Mississippi and last year at Auburn and Mississippi State.
Robert Edwards, Ward's teammate and close friend, pulled him aside as they walked toward the dressing room. "Is your dad supposed to be here?" Edwards said. "No, man," said Ward. "I'm shocked."
And just like that, Ward found himself torn apart again so someone could have a piece of him. He was 14 months old when his parents, a black U.S. serviceman and a Korean woman, brought him from Seoul to the United States. He was barely two when his father left him in Atlanta with a mother who spoke no English and had no friends; and he had just turned three when the father returned and took him away to Louisiana. He was seven when his mother took him back and 10 before he understood the depth of her love and devotion.
He went on to win a football scholarship to Georgia and arrived in the fall of 1994, just in time to catch the last two years of Ray Goff's tenure as coach. Goff applied Ward like spackle to cracks in his roster. During one stretch in 1995, Ward played three positions (wide receiver, running back and quarterback) in four weeks, performing well at all of them but mastering none. "If he could have concentrated on one position, whoa, he would have really been something," says Terrell Davis of the Denver Broncos, who was a senior running back at Georgia when Ward was a freshman. Even now Ward is a wide receiver for a team that has no receivers coach, yet he is the one player on whom Georgia relies most—as a weapon, as a decoy, as a leader.
This fall he has found his place. It is his second full year at wideout, and after catching 52 passes last season, he has caught 22 more this year, despite constant double-teaming. Under second-year coach Jim Donnan, Georgia is early in a rebuilding process, but showing signs of life. A 47-0 victory over Mississippi State last Saturday in Athens left the Bulldogs at 4-0 for the first time since 1982, Herschel Walker's last year between the hedges. Ward is neither blazingly fast (4.5 for the 40) nor exceptionally big (6 feet, 195 pounds), but he has attracted the attention of NFL scouts with his quickness, strength and savvy. Ward needs to pass two courses to graduate in December, just 31½ years after he enrolled, with a major in consumer economies and a current grade point average of 3.0. All of his dreams are at last within reach.
They met one night in the spring of 1975 on the street outside a Seoul nightclub. Hines Ward was 20 years old, serving a tour in Korea with the 2nd Infantry Division. He was almost 6'4" and probably no more than a few pounds over the 220 he carried when he played offensive tackle and defensive end for the Carroll High Bulldogs back in Monroe, La. Ward might have gone on to play for Eddie Robinson at Grambling, as his brother Wayne would go on to do, but he spent too many nights drinking cheap wine, consuming so much that he was vomiting blood from the ulcers he had developed before he left high school. "I should have hit the books. I shouldn't have been out there drinking, killing myself at an early age," says Ward. "But that all dawned on me way too late." He enlisted in the Army a few months after graduating from high school.
Kim Young He was a 25-year-old cashier in a Seoul variety store, one of two daughters of a widowed mother. She had gone out that night with a friend to cruise the clubs.
She and Ward were together a few months when Kim became pregnant with the only child she would bear. They married—"My mother always taught me, When you get somebody pregnant, you do the right thing," says Ward—and on March 8, 1976, Hines Ward Jr. was born. Roughly 14 months later the three of them came to the U.S., where Ward was assigned to Fort McPherson in Georgia. Only a few more months passed before the couple split up. Hines Sr. took a tour in Germany, leaving his toddler son in the Atlanta suburb of East Point with Kim, who had found her first job, cleaning mobile homes. When Hines Sr. returned to the U.S., he took his son home to Louisiana, where he remarried. But for the next four years Hines Jr. did not even live with his father but instead with his paternal grandmother, Martha Ward—"I raised him from three to seven," she says. "Nobody else. Me" while I lines Sr. made occasional visits from his new home in Shreveport, 100 miles west.
Outside Atlanta, Kim was lonely beyond description and hopelessly lost in a foreign culture. "I was so scared, I thought, I don't know anybody, I don't know anything. How can I live in this country?" She did what she knew best: She worked, beginning an exhausting climb to social and financial stability in hopes of being reunited with her son, which became her one goal. "I missed my boy so much," she says, "but I had to make money." She took a succession of low-paying jobs, sometimes holding down three at once and working from dawn until the middle of the night. She would occasionally visit her child in Louisiana, where the racial tension between her and Ward's family was palpable, and in the summer of 1983, she called Martha Ward to ask for her son. The grandmother did not hesitate. "I told Hines's father, 'I'm not going to be part of taking a child away from his mama,' " says Martha, now 64 and still living in Monroe. She put the seven-year-old on a plane to Atlanta, where he would begin anew with someone he knew only as "the Korean lady that used to come and visit me and give me toys."
Kim showered her child with gifts and cooked American food for him, but Hines was impossibly cruel, not understanding why he was in this strange place. "I back-talked her something terrible," recalls Ward. "One day when she drove me to school in fourth grade, I ducked down in the seat so the other kids wouldn't see me, because I didn't want them to know she was my mom. I got out, and when I looked back at the car, she was crying."