Connect with us
Steelers Hines Ward

Steelers History

Former Steelers WR Hines Ward’s Journey to Becoming the #1 Receiver in Franchise History was Forged by a Courageous Mother

NFL Films

Former Steelers WR Hines Ward’s Journey to Becoming the #1 Receiver in Franchise History was Forged by a Courageous Mother

In 1998, the Pittsburgh Steelers used a third-round pick to select Hines Ward, a receiver from the University of Georgia who lacked a pedigree, but possessed arguably the largest heart in the game. Ward played three positions in college and was labeled as a “jack of all trades,” but a “master of none.” Going into his senior year, Ward never had a position coach and questioned if he could make it to the NFL.

The Steelers weren’t even sure of what they were getting in Ward. His receiving stats in college had been good, but not exceptional, because Georgia’s offensive system properly utilized his talents. He wasn’t spectacularly fast, but he had great hands, was an explosive hitter, and knew how to play the game. He was a winner.

Steelers Hines Ward

When Steelers WR Hines Ward first ran onto the field, they had no idea they landed a legend: Courtesy NFL Films

Bill Cowher, per Heart and Steel:

Because he was so versatile, we weren’t sure what we intended to do with him. We wanted him on the team.

After we’d drafted him, a reporter asked me, “Who’s Hines Ward?”

“He’s a football player,” I said. “That’s all I know, he’s a football player.”

Ward’s uncommon tenacity was the embodiment of that commitment, effort, and toughness, but even that paled in comparison to the uncommon toughness of his mother that forged the character of her son.

In 1975, a 25-year-old Korean woman named Kim Young He fell in love with an American serviceman. They married, had a son, and moved to America. It was a long journey for a young mother, but nothing compared to the one she was about to begin.

A month after arriving in the suburbs of Atlanta, her husband left her. Suddenly she was alone in an unfamiliar foreign culture with a 1-year-old child, unable to speak English and no one to help her. With no one to count on but herself, she worked seven days a week to support her son. But even with that effort, it was proving incredibly difficult. So, just after Ward turned three, his father took him away to live in Louisiana.

Steelers Hines Ward

A young Hines Ward with his mother Kim Young He: Courtesy NFL Films

Ward’s mother, Kim Young He, per NFL Films:

“I was lonely, but didn’t have time to worry about being lonely because I had to work from bright morning until late night to support my son. I missed him. I wanted to see him so much, but it was hard to find someone who could keep him late at night. So, I had no choice.”

Everything in her life had been taken away from her, but Kim never stopped fighting for the one thing she cared about most, her son, Hines Ward. She became a strange and infrequent presence into his life, but she was determined to bring him home and after four years, she did.

Ward wasn’t particularly enthusiastic to leave with his mother at first. He didn’t know much about the Korean culture and as he was more exposed to it (such as not wearing shoes or eating Korean food), he did not like it. Despite doing everything she could to make him comfortable, often working 2-3 jobs often at minimum wage, yet somehow, she saved enough to buy a 3-bedroom house and bought her son anything he wanted.

But all he really wanted was to be away from her. That is, until a life-changing experience occurred, one the pair had to work through and grow from, as Ward recounts:

“I was ashamed at first because I didn’t want friends to come over.”

“It got to the point where I was frustrated of getting teased and I let the kids get the best of me.  It ended up my mother had to drive me to school, and I could see all the kids looking and just pointing.  I just scrunched down into the car, like real low.  And my mom, you could look at the side of her eye, around the corner and I kind of think she just felt, here I am, busting my tail off for you trying to give you the nice things and you’re ashamed of me as your mother.”

“When I got out of the car and I told her bye, she had a tear in her eye and was kind of crying.”

“When I looked back and saw her crying, that really… I grew up real fast. No matter what the kids said to me, I accepted being Korean, half-Korean and half-Black and that’s who I am. Either you like me, or you don’t.”

Once Ward went to the University of Georgia and put on a football uniform, everybody liked him. And he forged his identity from that experience. Over the period of seven weeks, team injuries would force Ward to play quarterback, running back and wide receiver. He became the gridiron version of his mother, sacrificing himself for the good of others and overcoming any obstacle in his path.

By the end of his rookie year, Ward was the Steelers’ best special teams player. By the end of his second year, Ward led the Steelers in receptions. But entering his third year, he was demoted to second team due to two first round picks (Troy Edwards and Plaxico Burress) drafted to start ahead of him.


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


Steelers Hines Ward

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver, Hines Ward leaps to make a touchdown catch vs. the Baltimore Ravens. Despite being the Steelers’ most productive WR, he still had to prove himself: Courtesy NFL Films

Jerome Bettis, per NFL Films:

“All of a sudden, he was the odd man out. But you never heard him complain, he just worked his butt off to the point where the coaches had to make a tough decision.”

Ward won his starting position back in 2000, again leading the Steelers in receptions, but this time, he never let go. He emerged as the Steelers’ top receiver in 2001, breaking Yancey Thigpen’s single-season franchise record with 94 receptions. He followed that up by finished only behind Marvin Harrison with 112 receptions in 2002.

Steelers Hines Ward

Hines Ward beats Ty Law for a catch in the 2001 AFC Championship Game: Courtesy NFL Films

Bill Cowher, per Heart and Steel:

“Hines quickly became a model of versatility and leadership for us. Halfway through the 2001 season, we were 6-2. Hines had an impact on every part of our offense, and if it’s possible, he did it with both constant toughness and a constant smile. He was our leading receiver, willing to go over the middle and make tough catches in traffic. He was a big part of our running game because he loved to hit and often moved defenders back a couple of yards with his ferocious blocks; he took great pride in that aspect of his game.”

Ward, once labeled a jack of all trades, but master of none, became an integral part of the Steelers offense on the field as a player and also off it as a leader.

Jerome Bettis, per NFL Films:

“I’m just glad to say I played with him because he inspires us as teammates to play harder because you see him doing it. If the ball wasn’t given to me, I could go down and block somebody.”

Steelers Hines Ward

Jerome Bettis looks to block for Hines Ward in the final game at Three Rivers Stadium in 2000: Courtesy NFL Films

And no one took more joy in showing leadership and having fun doing so more than Ward himself.

“I love playing. I love the game. If you ever watch me, I’m always smiling. People always say, ‘why are you smiling so much?’ I’m actually laughing. You can hear me running down the sideline the whole time.”

Steelers Hines Ward

Hines Ward played every game with a large grin: Courtesy NFL Films

“I remember one particular play, Tommy Maddox, he was my lead blocker, and I am talking behind Tommy saying ‘go, go, go” and he heard me giggling and asked, ‘were you laughing at me when you were running the reverse’ and I was like ‘yeah!’”

Steelers Hines Ward

Hines Ward laughs as he runs a reverse with quarterback Tommy Maddox as lead blocker during a 2004 preseason game vs. the Dallas Cowboys: Courtesy NFL Films

For all the smiles and the toughness of play, the giant heart that drove Ward came from a 5’1” woman full of courage that came from Korea and never gave up on herself, or her son, sentiments that Ward summed up:

“My whole career is how my mother faced her whole life. Things don’t happen the way we plan, but with hard work and persistence, good things and positive things happen to you. Without my mom, all this wouldn’t be possible. Who knows how my life would have turned out?”

Steelers Hines Ward

Hines Ward stands outside his home with his mother Kim Young He: Courtesy NFL Films

As a lifelong fan of #86, we are all thankful for the giant heart of Kim Young He, who raised a son that secured a win in Super Bowl XL for the Steelers as he won Super Bowl MVP and along the way, helped forge one of the NFL’s greatest ever teams with the 2000’s Steelers.

#SteelerNation

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.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. James Austin

    July 26, 2022 at 6:52 am

    Great article. Hines was definitely a difference maker. I remember a game against the Titans, he got hammered catching a pass in the middle of the field. I held my breath because he was grabbing at his back and it looked like a serious injury. However he came off for one play,which is the rule and then the very next play “touchdown Hines Ward”. He deserves to be in Canton

  2. Mary Cisco

    July 26, 2022 at 7:03 pm

    I love this article!!! His story, and his Mother, is so inspiring!! Thank you Hines for giving Steelers Nation your hard work and dedication. And thank you so much for that winning smile! You are by far one of the best to play the game, and it is so fantastic that you played it in the Burgh!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More in Steelers History