FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — There’s something stronger than the metaphorical steel that runs through Hines Ward’s veins. It stayed with him through his childhood, his 14 seasons with the Steelers, and even after retirement, when he won on "Dancing with the Stars."
And it’s not going anywhere this Sunday, when his old team plays his new team — the Jets, who hired him as an offensive assistant in September. He’s made sure the players under his care know that.
“I’m a competitive guy,” the four-time Pro Bowl receiver and Super Bowl MVP said. “I want to win still as much as anyone in this building, trust me. I keep telling my guys that they’ve got to win this one for me. I want a Gatorade shower and all that if we win. I’m just thrilled at the opportunity. It’ll be the first time in my career that I’ve rooted against the Steelers.”
And there’s a bevy of emotions that come with that, primary being: “it’s kind of weird,” he said. His name is synonymous with Steelers football, he’s pretty close to whatever Pittsburgh’s version of royalty is, and his ties there run deep. Ward said his “phone has been blowing up” with requests from people in the Steelers’ organization. Turns out, a lot of people want to get dinner in New York City around the holidays.
But cognitive dissonance is the price Ward pays for his newest venture. He just wanted to be back around football he said, and after an internship with the Steelers, the Jets gave him his shot. But the road back to football was winding, including acting stints on "The Walking Dead" and "The Dark Knight Rises," a presidential appointment on the advisory commission on Asian American and Pacific Islanders, and a gig with "Sunday Night Football."
“I’ve tried a lot of different things,” he said. “I’ve done, of course, 'Dancing with the Stars' and all these things, but there’s nothing like being around the locker room and being around an organization. For me, I’ve been to the pinnacle, I’ve been to the mountaintop, you know. I’ve been very blessed. I’ve gotten everything I wanted out of football, so I want to share that experience and knowledge to younger guys…
“Luckily for me, the Jets gave me the opportunity here and I want to take advantage of it each and every day.”
An exceptional blocking receiver, Ward passed along some of that mentality to Robby Anderson, who’s notably been far more physical this season.
“You know, we’ve gone through a lot of ups and downs this season — how to deal with guys, stuff like that, but in all, I wouldn’t change it for the world,” he said. “It’s been an amazing experience for me.”
Ward said he didn’t want to discuss where next year will take him — be it up the food chain, or away from 1 Jets Drive. Right now, he can only see one thing.
“Right now, I’m just focused on Pittsburgh,” he said. “I want to beat Pittsburgh bad.”
Notes & quotes: OL Tom Compton (calf) and WR Demaryius Thomas (hamstring/knee) did not practice Friday. Anderson (illness), DL Quinnen Williams (neck), S Jamal Adams (ankle) headlined a list of players who were limited at practice. Adam Gase said Anderson was OK, but just recuperating from being sick Thursday.