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Steelers Legend Hines Ward On His Controversial Demotion In 2000 — “I Was Angry”

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Steelers Legend Hines Ward On His Controversial Demotion In 2000 — “I Was Angry”

Hines Ward led the Pittsburgh Steelers in receptions every season for over a decade, starting in 1999 when he finished the season tied with 1999 first-round draft pick Troy Edwards with 61. But the Steelers lack of success during that season, combined with the selection of Plaxico Burress with the 8th overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft, led to a demotion of Ward from the starting lineup in favor of an offense that would feature two first-round draft picks at receiver.

There were other starters who were under greater pressure resulting from a miserable 1999 season, including quarterback Kordell Stewart, who was relegated to joining the wide receivers for the final five games of the season and would even be replaced by Kent Graham to begin the 2000 campaign. But Ward was not destined to be a player that would never live up to his potential, nor was he an aging starter who struggled on the season like Jerome Bettis.  He felt singled out and frustrated when Bill Cowher nudged him to the side without talking to him about it, as he told Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“Nobody ever talked to me, nobody ever told me I was demoted. I was angry.  But then you have to think, do you get angry and pout about it, or do you just shut your mouth and continue to get better as a receiver?”

Steelers Hines Ward and Bill Cowher

Hines Ward talks to Bill Cowher on the sidelines. Photo/CBS Sports

Ward’s determination spoke volumes, as he chose to continue to develop his game and improve. As a result, his demotion to the second string did not last long.

The Steelers started the 2000 campaign with a dud as they were shut out 16-0 by the Baltimore Ravens in the season opener. It did not take long for Cowher to pull Edwards out of the starting lineup and insert Ward back in, although Ward still had some proving to do. Although Ward finished the season as the Steelers leading receiver with 48 receptions, he split series  2-1 with Edwards, a situation that did not necessarily work with either receiver, but it was obvious that Edwards felt that his first-round draft status earned him privileges he did not earn.

Edwards openly admitted that he was “excited” that the Steelers selected Burress and the offense was going to be better with him and Burress starting. This line of thinking did not sit well with Ward, who was already upset about the unwarranted demotion. Still, even Ward tried to get the most out of his teammates, who seemed to rebuke his suggestions.

“I’d try to tell Troy and Plax what to do, but they’re first-rounders. It was like ‘who are you to tell me what to do?’ It got to the point where I said screw it, I’m not helping nobody. Those two are first-rounders, if they think they know everything, they can do it. That was kind of selfish because I was worrying about me getting better as a receiver.”

Steelers Former Wide Receiver Plaxico Burress

Photo by Keith Srakocic / AP

Over the course of the season, the cream would rise to the top, as Ward and Edwards went through the rotating series. Ward was the one producing, while Edwards continued to complain. It went on so long that Cowher could no longer deal with it. He made a decision to completely sit Edwards and go with Ward full-time, something that would pay off with the best stretch at WR play the Steelers had ever seen up to that point in time in franchise history.

“I guess Coach Cowher got fed up with Troy and the bickering and he said, ‘Hines, you’re going to be our starter, that’s it.”


The Reemergence of Hines Ward

From that point, Edwards would fade from Steelers history while Ward became a Hall of Fame worthy wide receiver and Super Bowl XL MVP. He also became an unquestioned team leader. When Ward challenged Burress about his work ethic shortly into the 2001 season, Burress quickly understood and complied as it was Ward that was the one coming off the contract extension.

Ward shared this exchange at the Steelers UPMC training facility with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

“The third week of the season, Burress walked in, and I said, ‘Where’s your playbook?’ He said, ‘I study on Thursdays.’ I said, ‘No you need to be studying every day, just look at it.”

There’s a reason that Burress improved to lead the Steelers in receiving yards in 2001 with 1,008 yards on 66 catches after an ugly 22-catch, 273-yard rookie season with 0 TD’s. While Ward was clearly the #1 target and the best blocking WR in the league already, he began making his teammates better early on and never stopped.

It continued on to when he had to call plays in the huddle in 2004 for a rookie Ben Roethlisberger who was just inserted into the starting lineup on through his retirement and earning the respect of his teammates to where Alan Faneca personally selected Ward to be his presenter in hopes of getting him more exposure to the Hall of Fame voters.

Steelers Hines Ward Alan Faneca

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


Is Ward arguably now the best receiver in Steelers history? Click to comment below!


PMP; CSM; CSPO and host of the PMI-TB Agile Podcast. A lifelong Steelers fan, I had the chance of a lifetime when I was able to celebrate Super Bowl XLIII with the team. I love talking everything Steelers from the old days to the new and look forward to working with the team to grow this platform to be the premier Steelers site.



  1. lee Lazette

    July 23, 2022 at 12:43 pm

    I am old enough to have witnessed Steelers football from the 70’s and it would be hard to put Ward above Stallworth and Swann. However he is my favorite…. period!!!

  2. Timothy S Richard

    July 23, 2022 at 1:19 pm

    I agree Swanny is hard to deny even tho Stalworth was the tougher receiver, a bit more like Ward in the blocking dept. Been watching them since before Mean Joe & Noll came on board. And will pull up a cloud and watch em when I die.

  3. Michael

    July 23, 2022 at 3:44 pm

    Swan & Stallworth were the foundation. Ward was TOUGH,adapted by making teammates better. S&S didn’t have to engage teammates that way. They weren’t blocking alot either.. Different eras however Ward is a phenomenal talent & human being!!
    He should be enshrined in Pro Football HOF…what’s the hold up?!?

  4. Pingback: Former Steelers WR Hines Ward's Journey to Becoming the #1 Receiver in Franchise History was Forged by a Courageous Mother -

  5. Rick Cummings

    July 23, 2022 at 9:46 pm

    It’s hard to deny that Swan and Stallworth where the pillars of the Steelers offense back in the 70’s but there was no Steeler receiver tougher than Ward. No matter how hard he was hit he would bounce back up with a smile on his face and ready to go. He played the game with no complaints!

  6. Douglas Edinger

    July 24, 2022 at 7:12 pm

    What other WR wasn’t afraid to knock a defender to the ground and catch passes across the middle like Ward? He was afraid of those big defenders, fast CB’s, or Safeties. He’d block anybody, big or small. He’d catch passes in heavy traffic or in open field. He reminded me of Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. Side note: Born in the Poconos and now reside in South Texas driving these Cowboy fans crazy, because I know more about their team than they do and I’m a die hard STEELERS and PENGUIN fan.

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