PITTSBURGH (AP) -Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney was among the first to shake Hines Ward's hand after Ward claimed his latest team pass receiving record, erasing Hall of Famer John Stallworth's name yet again.
Of course, Ward could have returned the favor by congratulating Rooney for making one of the wisest draft picks in team history.
Ward's two touchdown catches during the Steelers' 24-10 victory over Cincinnati on Sunday night gave him 64 for his 10-season career, one more than Stallworth had from 1974-87. Ward already owned records for career receptions, most catches in a season (112) and consecutive games with a reception (143).
Ward isn't done yet: He is 112 yards away from breaking Stallworth's career yardage mark of 8,723.
``He gets open, even when he's not open,'' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. ``If I put it close to him, he's going to make plays.''
Nobody was predicting such accomplishments when the Steelers drafted Ward with their second pick in the third round in 1998. (The other third-rounder, lineman Chris Conrad, played only two seasons and is now a high school coach.)
Even after drafting the former receiver/quarterback from Georgia, the Steelers weren't sure what they had in Ward.
Desperate to land a game-altering type receiver, they drafted Troy Edwards in the first round in 1999, then Plaxico Burress on the first round the year after that. As it turned out, the receiver they wanted turned out to be the receiver they already had.
When they finally won the Super Bowl two seasons ago for the first time in 26 years, it was Ward - not those long-since-gone receivers - who was the game MVP.
``I caught all of those balls and those yards and touchdowns, nobody caught them for me,'' Ward said. ``I had to catch all of them myself. Nobody gave me anything. I just went and worked my tail off. It's a great story of hard work and perseverance.''
Ward has been one of the NFL's most versatile receivers since he became a starter in 1999.
He's not a burner who gets his yardage by outrunning defenders on long catches, but rather gets the tough yards over the middle and in multiple coverage. And there have been few receivers in NFL history who block as well as Ward does.
``He is a football player first and a wide receiver second,'' coach Mike Tomlin said.
Ward has 13 of those 64 TD catches against the Bengals, including four in two games this season. With Santonio Holmes (sprained ankle) out for the second game in a row, Cincinnati knew Ward had to be shut down, yet he made a season-high 11 catches for 90 yards on a rainy night.
``We had guys right there strapped to him,'' Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. ``He does a good job with his body. He (Roethlisberger) fit one ball (to Ward) through three guys.''
The 31-year-old Ward proved his value again as the Steelers beat the Dolphins and the Bengals at home in a span of seven days.
Despite atrocious field conditions in last Monday's 3-0 win, Ward caught nine passes for 88 yards. That's 20 catches for 178 yards in two games played on mushy turf in cold weather.
``There were lots of times tonight where we heard them saying, `Watch Hines on this, watch Hines on that,''' Roethlisberger said Sunday. ``He's unbelievable.''
Ward's perspective has changed over the years, even if his production has remained steady; he has 70 or more catches every year but one in the last six seasons, and he had 69 in the season he didn't.
``I'm not going to be one of those guys bickering about not getting the ball,'' Ward said. ``This team is about winning ballgames. I know I can help elsewhere in the running game, in my blocks, on third downs. I don't really buy into stats like I used to earlier in my career.''
Then, Ward thought he needed to have numbers to convince people of his worth.
``I thought stats were to get my name out there,'' he said. ``I don't have to do that any more. Whenever my day is done, when people mention Hines Ward, they just say, `He may not have been the biggest or the fastest, but he was one hell of a football player.' That's the legacy I want to leave when my day is done.''
Notes: After playing four of five at home - and winning all four at Heinz Field - the Steelers play three of their final four on the road, beginning Sunday at New England. ... The Steelers (9-3) have surpassed last season's win total, despite being held to 285 yards or fewer in their last three games. ... Pittsburgh has lost five of six to New England and hasn't won in Foxborough since 1997, though it has played there only once since. That 30-14 loss in 2002 was a rematch of the previous season's AFC championship game.

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