The 2023 Pro Football Hall of Fame class will be unveiled tonight during NFL Honors. While we don’t know who those names will be, we know there won’t be any Pittsburgh Steelers on the final ballot. Hines Ward and James Harrison were named semifinalists but excluded from the finalist list, meaning they’ll have to wait at least another year to get their knock on the door.
But if former Baltimore Ravens’ head coach Brian Billick had a vote, he’d cast one for Hines Ward. Appearing on 93.7 The Fan with Andrew Fillipponi and Chris Mueller, Billick went to bat for Ward.
“To me he’s a slam dunk Hall of Famer because to me the Hall of Fame should be beyond the numbers, the stats,” Billick told the show as transcribed by Jeff Hathhorn.
Ravens sticking up for Steelers. Up is down, black is white, our pets heads are falling off. But few knew the intensity of the Steelers/Ravens rivalry as well as Billick, coach of the Ravens from 1999 to 2007. It spanned the majority of Ward’s career, drafted in the third round by the Steelers in 1998 going from special teamer to the offense’s #1 receiver.
Ward’s case for the Hall of Fame has been debated for years. An old-school receiver and the best blocking receiver in history, he was consistently good throughout his career and put up solid numbers despite playing with less-than-stellar quarterbacks or in run-heavy offenses. Ward himself has made a solid case for why he deserves to be in Canton, highlighting his excellent playoff numbers that rival any of the top names already in the Hall. There’s certainly merit to the case. But he’s been a semifinalist for seven straight years, unable to get across the finish line. And with increased competition and modern-era players beginning to appear on these lists, Ward’s chances of entering the Hall of Fame have diminished.
Still, Billick believes Ward has done more than enough to be placed into football immortality..
“In my mind, Hines Ward changed the game. Changed the mentality, not that it’s adhered to all the time, that mentality of a receiver being involved, being versatile.”
The NFL rewrote its blocking rules because of Ward, eliminating the crack back block Ward routinely dished out throughout his career. But once he broke Keith Rivers’ jaw, the league stepped in.
While Ward will go down in Steelers’ history, it’s doubtful he’ll be placed into the Hall anytime soon. There’s already three receivers ahead of him in this year’s class – Andre Johnson, Torry Holt, and Reggie Wayne – and four if you include Devin Hester. Not all of those names will get in this year, meaning Ward will sit behind them next year. Each year, more receivers become eligible, overshadowing Ward with better numbers thanks to present-day offenses that threw the ball far more, though the good news is there aren’t any top receivers first-time eligible next season. Brandon Marshall is the biggest name. But Ward’s path to Canton may reside in the Veteran’s Committee 10+ years from now and the next Steeler to make it into Canton might end up being QB Ben Roethlisberger in 2027.