If you want to find agreement among UGA fans, bring up the name of Hines Ward.
Currently competing on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars,” Ward is known by the rest of the country for his long career as one of the NFL’s best wide receivers and a Super Bowl MVP for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But for Georgia fans he’ll forever be the quintessential Bulldog, a guy who just wanted to get into the game and was willing to play any position to do so.
Recruited as a quarterback, Ward ended up playing running back and receiver as a freshman, then was thrown into the breach by Ray Goff as a sophomore after Mike Bobo was injured, starting at quarterback against Alabama even though he hadn’t practiced with the QBs since the previous year. The results weren’t pretty that first go-round, but when another QB injury necessitated Ward going back behind center later in the season, a legend was born.
Those who saw Ward’s valiant effort against Auburn on a freezing night in Athens will never forget the sight of him doubling over with pain from an injured wrist between plays as he almost pulled off an upset of the Tigers. He did lead the Dogs over Tech and then in the Peach Bowl set school bowl records for pass attempts, completions and yards in a losing effort against Virginia as he threw for 413 yards.
With the arrival of Jim Donnan the next year, Ward moved permanently to wide receiver for his last two seasons, though he frequently lined up in the backfield, too. Typical of his versatility was the win over Florida in 1997 when Ward had seven receptions for 85 yards, ran five times for 21 yards, completed two passes for 27 yards and returned two kickoffs for 70 yards.
All-SEC first team his senior year, Ward racked up 3,870 all-purpose yards, second only to Herschel Walker. Not coincidentally, Ward and Walker are the two Georgia players who’ve been immortalized wearing their UGA uniforms in sports action figures.
I asked a few other fans for their favorite Bulldog memories of Ward and besides the tremendous effort against Auburn the highlights that came up most often were the crazy head-over-heels leap into the end zone on a reverse to secure a 2-point conversion against Texas Tech in 1996; that 1997 Florida game, where he was constantly scrapping with the cornerback, giving as good as he got; and the 1998 win over Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl, with Bobo and Ward playing pass-and-catch for a dozen receptions, another school bowl record. There’s a photo of Ward in that game hanging on the wall in my son’s old room, looking sharp in those black britches and with that wide, infectious grin that ABC viewers are getting to know.
Overall, though, it was Ward’s never-say-die attitude that left the most lasting impression on UGA fans. As my friend Johnny put it, “This kid just wanted to play. Hines never quit.”
Like I said, my favorite memory of Ward is that cold night in Athens when he was really hurting and yet still battled on.
What’s your favorite UGA Hines Ward moment?
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg