Let’s put aside our differences of if Hines Ward deserves to be enshrined in Canton, Ohio. You guys probably know where I stand – he doesn’t – and I know where the majority of Steelers’ Nation sits – he does. We can rehash that argument for the next four months and wind up in the same place. So forget that noise.
Instead, we’ll shift to the practicality. The reality. Given how long it’s taken him already, we know that he’s a borderline candidate and things will have to break just so for him to get inducted. That’s where you run into serious problems trying to argue he will get in, even if you think he should.
As Dave Bryan wrote Saturday night, there are already two Steelers with better Canton credentials than Ward eligible for next year. Troy Polamalu, it’ll be a travesty if he doesn’t get in first ballot, and Alan Faneca, who should’ve been in this year but will have to try again in 2020.
There’s no way Ward, who’s still never been a finalist, gets in next year and it’s highly unlikely he even makes the top 15 given that there’s two Steelers ahead of him undoubtedly more deserving of the Hall than he is. Meaning, the next earliest chance he has is 2021 and if Faneca still isn’t in, he’ll certainly have to wait all the longer.
And there’s the rub. Why I’ve always thought it was going to be a difficult path for Ward to get in and doing so early was critical to his chances. By then, this decade’s best receivers will be or about to be eligible. In 2021, Calvin Johnson’s name appears for the first time. Slam dunk, don’t gotta talk about it, first ballot Hall of Famer. Ward’s not going to be in that class. Steve Smith and Andre Johnson appear the following year, two names almost assured of making it before Ward, both players outpacing him in receptions, yards, and Pro Bowls.
And then there are still the names currently trying to make it like Isaac Bruce, who went further than Ward this year and likely will remain in that position until he’s finally given the nod (assuming he does). Heck, we’re even talking about Julian Edelman as Hall of Fame material and though I wouldn’t vote him in, he may wind up having more momentum than Ward will.
So where does Hines fit? He’s shrinking at a position that – for reasons I can’t quite figure out – is abnormally difficult to get elected.
At this point, his best shot may be to wait until the Senior Committee elects him, when we’re in a different era of football and more fondly look back on yesteryear; Ward playing the game an entirely contrasting way to how it is in say, 2040, when I assume robots dominate and Tom Brady is searching for his 20th Super Bowl ring. If you’re wondering, Ward will be eligible for that in 2036, 25 years after his career ended.
If you’re driving the “Ward to Canton” bus, stop at a Sheetz, grab some snacks, and fill up that gas tank. You’re going to be cruising awhile.