Tuesday, January 20, 2009 Updated: January 21, 7:19 PM ET
Sprained knee won't keep Ward out
By James Walker ESPN.com
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward is getting tired of the questions regarding his playing status for the Super Bowl.
For the second time in four days, Ward reiterated that he will be ready to play in Super Bowl XLIII Feb. 1 against the Arizona Cardinals despite a sprained right knee.
"I don't like missing games, and I got two weeks to prepare," Ward said in the locker room Wednesday. "It's the Super Bowl, and I won't miss the Super Bowl."
Ward needs extensive work to rehabilitate his sprained right knee, but he insists he'll play.
Tuesday, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin still expects the wide receiver to play.
"We're definitely not going to count him out," Tomlin said. "We're going to save a seat on the bus for 86."
Ward will skip practice for the remainder of the week but has no doubts that he will play. He described his rehab process as "24 hours" which includes work at the team facility and at home. Ward said he's doing double the assignments at home that's been given to him from Pittsburgh's training staff.
The Steelers won't allow Ward to test the knee until next week when they will have a more definitive update on his status. He says it feels better than it did a few days ago and expects continued improvement.
"Next week I will go out and get ready to practice," Ward said Wednesday. "If this was probably in season I would probably wait, because you don't want to risk further injury ... But it's the Super Bowl."
The Steelers wide receiver also said he's not about to miss a Super Bowl against his former practice field acquaintance, Larry Fitzgerald.
Ward became friends with the Cardinals' All-Pro receiver when Fitzgerald played at Pitt, and the two have stayed in touch. When both teams won their conference championship games Sunday, they exchanged text messages.
"He texted me the other day and it was like, 'Let us win, you already have a ring,' " Ward said. "My response is, 'I want two rings.' "
Ward went to several Pitt games when Fitzgerald played for the Panthers in 2002-03, and he realized immediately how good the young receiver was.
"He was always asking me stuff," said Ward, who regularly bumped into Fitzgerald in the practice facility the Steelers share with Pitt. "He asks me questions to this day. He'll text me and ask me about certain defensive backs and what not. He's a great student of the game and he's got tons of talent."
Fitzgerald has set an NFL postseason record with 419 yards receiving in three games and the Super Bowl still to play.
"He's very excited to be on the biggest stage in the Super Bowl," Ward said of Fitzgerald, who predicted while in college he would play in the Super Bowl. "Hopefully we can contain him and not let him go wild."
Ward isn't the downfield threat Fitzgerald is, but he is one of the NFL's most consistent receivers and was the Super Bowl MVP three years ago when the Steelers beat Seattle.
Ward, the Steelers' career receiving leader, sprained a medial collateral ligament while making a catch in the first quarter of the AFC Championship Game against Baltimore on Sunday night. If the Steelers played this week, he may not have been ready.
Tuesday was the players' scheduled day off, yet Tomlin observed Ward doing extensive rehabilitation work in the team's practice complex. The Steelers leave Monday for Tampa and the Feb. 1 game against Arizona, but only after they go through a regular week of practice.
The schedule will be the same as for any other week, Tomlin said, and the Steelers will draw up a game plan as if they were playing this Sunday. A game plan that is likely to include Ward.
"We're going to do everything in our power so he gets the medical attention he needs," Tomlin said. "In his mind, he's playing, so chances are he is. It's not going to be comfortable between now and game day in terms of making that happen. But it's not about comfort, particularly with Hines."
Ward played in every Steelers game from 2001-04, and he has missed only six games the last four seasons -- none this season. He led the team with 81 catches for 1,043 yards, his fifth career 1,000-yard season and his first since 2004.
"I don't plan on missing this game, trust me. So don't worry about my knee, I'll be fine," Ward said following the 24-13 victory over Baltimore.
Ward didn't play much against the Ravens because of the injury, but made catches of 45 yards and 11 yards that set up Jeff Reed field goals. He returned briefly in the second quarter and caught one pass, but did not play the rest of the game
"I just fell on it wrong," said Ward, the MVP of the 2006 Super Bowl. "I just kind of twisted it and it felt weird. ... But I didn't want to go out there and hurt our team if I wasn't 100 percent. I could have played 75 or 80 percent but a championship game, let's put in a bunch of guys who are 100 percent, go out there and run full speed."
Left tackle Max Starks said he played with a tear in his meniscus, not just a sprain, during the Steelers' last Super Bowl.
"A sprained knee is a relative term, especially with the braces they have now, the technology," Starks said. "He might not be able to move as fast but, knowing Hines, I can't see him not playing. Maybe if somebody had a big tear, but to have a sprain and to have two weeks off, most guys can usually come back from that."
Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.