Hines Ward is forever a Steelers legend. Nobody will dispute that.
Ward, who was a third-round pick of the Steelers in 1998, played the entirety of his 14-year career in the Steel City, becoming the franchise's all-time leader in receptions (1,000), yards (12,083) and touchdowns (85). Antonio Brown (837 receptions, 11,207 yards, 74 touchdowns) approached Ward's numbers, but we all know how that ended.
Besides setting the team records, though, Ward won two Super Bowls with the Steelers and was the MVP of Super Bowl XL. He was also chosen alongside Lynn Swann and John Stallworth at receiver for the Steelers' all-time team in 2007.
So, yeah, it's a little strange now for Ward, who is an offensive assistant coach for the Steelers' upcoming Week 16 opponent, the Jets.
“It’s going to be kind of weird," Ward was saying ahead of the game. "The first time I put on the color green, it was kind of weird. It will be kind of weird facing a team you played for, for 14 years. I will always bleed black and gold and [did] great things [there] during my football career. I won a couple of championships, the city of Pittsburgh treated me great. It’s like a home away from home."
That, however, is where the flowery nostalgia ended.
"I still want to beat those guys," Ward said. "It will be a little bittersweet. I am thankful for the opportunity to play for the Steelers, but I am also thankful to the Jets. That will be the only time I will root against Pittsburgh.”
Ward will undoubtedly be feeling the love on Sunday, despite this game being played in East Rutherford, N.J.'s MetLife Stadium — and Jets head coach Adam Gase is well prepared for that.
“I think most of the time I’ve ever played them [the Steelers] anywhere I’ve been, it’s kind of been one of those things you prepare for," Gase said of the Steelers' all-over fanbase. "You kind of feel it out there in the game, you work on both. You just never know. I was in Denver and there was a huge Pittsburgh following there, I’ve been to a couple different places and it’s been consistent. They have a really good fanbase that travels with them.”