Roberto Clemente ended his baseball career with his 3,000th hit, a majestic double up against the wall on the final day of the regular season.
Hines Ward’s 1,000th catch wasn’t quite as thrilling.
The Steelers’ wide receiver caught his 1,000th pass behind the line of scrimmage and was promptly tackled for a three-yard loss by D’Qwell Jackson.
Ward made the catch in the fourth quarter of the final game of his 14th season, and if his career ends with a three-yard loss, Ward will still smile.
“It didn’t matter,” said Ward. “Minus two, minus three yards, that was the happiest minus catch I’ve ever had.”
It was Ward’s fifth catch of the game, a 13-9 win by the visiting Steelers over the Cleveland Browns.
He becomes the eighth player in NFL history with 1,000 catches, and Ward said he was nervous about reaching the goal prior to the game.
“I was nervous going into it, there’s no question about that,” Ward said. “I really wanted to do it this year, but put the team first. A thousand catches, 12,000 yards, [that’s] not bad for a guy, considering where I came from, and doing it all for this great organization.
“Hats off to all the coaching staff, all my teammates, Mr. Rooney, and all those guys. Today I think we all won. I think everybody was excited about it.”
Ward said that teammate Jerricho Cotchery told him before the game that “Tonight’s going to be special because the good Lord is going to take away the weather for a little bit” to let Ward reach the milestone.
“Right after I caught the thousandth ball, the bad weather started coming,” Ward said. “I was like, ‘Aw that would’ve been a nightmare to try to catch that in the fourth quarter.”
Ward got off to a bad start when he dropped an easy pass behind the line of scrimmage from Ben Roethlisberger on the Steelers’ first snap of the game.
But Ward bounced back three plays later with a 5-yard catch. He caught his second pass late in the second quarter for a 7-yard gain on the Steelers’ first scoring drive.
Needing three receptions in the second half, Ward caught a 9-yard pass on the second possession, a 6-yard pass on the penultimate play of the third quarter, and the negative 3-yard pass on the Steelers’ first offensive snap of the fourth quarter.
It added up to 5 catches for 24 yards in the game, 46 catches for 381 yards in the season, and 1,000 catches for 12,083 yards in his career.
Ward joins a 1,000-catch club that includes Jerry Rice (1,549), Tony Gonzalez (1,149), Marvin Harrison (1,102), Cris Carter (1,101), Tim Brown (1,094), Terrell Owens (1,078) and Isaac Bruce (1,024).
Ward and Rice are the only two players on the list with more than one NFL Championship. Ward is still in the hunt for his third ring, which would tie Rice.
“I think winning meant more to me than anything,” Ward said. “But in the back of my mind I was saying, ‘Man, it’d be great to get a thousand catches.’
“It’s amazing because coming into the NFL I was just proud to be in the NFL. Through hard work and perseverance and being able to stay healthy and do it on a consistent basis year in and year out, here I am, the eighth guy in history to do it. It’s an elite club to be in. All the guys who’ve thrown me passes in my career, I just want to thank everybody.”