Business as usual for Steelers' Ward

Updated: January 28, 2009, 12:53 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

TAMPA, Fla. -- Hines Ward isn't cutting or turning yet on an injury that sometimes takes weeks and weeks to heal. He's not running pass patterns or sprinting with much speed.

Not playing in the Super Bowl? Ward can't imagine it, and neither can any of his Pittsburgh Steelers teammates.

The one question hanging over the AFC champion Steelers as their practice week begins is whether the wide receiver who owns most of the franchise's career pass-catching records will play with a sprained knee.

To Ward, there's no question at all.

"I don't have a brace on, I'm walking around fine," Ward said Monday, not long after arriving with his teammates. "I'm not going to be 100 percent, I'm not going to trick anybody. But I think I'm going to be able to go out there and perform like I'm used to."

Ward said he will likely wear a knee brace in the game.

"I think I have to play with it," said Ward, who sprained his MCL in the AFC Championship Game. "In case you fall down on it, you don't want to reinjure falling down. The thing is, you want to play with a brace and make sure it doesn't affect your route-running ability. Time will tell."

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was startled anyone doubted that one of the NFL's toughest and most physical offensive players -- and the Super Bowl MVP three years ago -- would play.

"People ask me that question and I want to smack them," Roethlisberger said. "It's Hines Ward, he's going to be out here. It's the Super Bowl."
Media Day: Hines Ward

NFL.com Video

The Steelers' WR answers questions about his knee and facing his former OC, Ken Whisenhunt.

Ward has been so committed to his rehabilitation program since getting hurt in the AFC Championship Game on Jan. 18, he worked out Monday before the Steelers took a morning flight to Tampa.

Ward is listed as questionable for the Sunday night game against Arizona, and coach Mike Tomlin said he won't practice Wednesday, the same routine Ward followed all season. Ward hopes to take part Thursday in what will be the Steelers' final full-scale practice.

Before then, he'll have some additional help with his rehab.

Ward shipped a hyperbaric oxygen chamber to the team hotel -- yes, just like the device Michael Jackson once used. Ward believes it stimulates the production of red blood cells and will hasten his recuperation from the same type of injury that sidelined running back Willie Parker for a month this season.

If he plays, Ward will be one of 11 Steelers regulars appearing in their second Super Bowl in four seasons and the franchise's seventh, only one fewer than the Cowboys' record eight. The Steelers are trying for their sixth title, more than any other team.

Tomlin, in only his second season, could set a record of his own as the youngest coach -- he's 36 -- to win an NFL championship.

With so much big-game experience, it was difficult to tell the rookies from the veterans as the Steelers arrived. Roethlisberger and defensive end Brett Keisel were among those holding video cameras to capture the moment as they stepped off the team plane.

"I'm just enjoying it, and I'm going to enjoy it," said the 26-year-old Roethlisberger, who can join Tom Brady as the only other quarterback to win two Super Bowls by 26. "I don't know if it will be my last one, so I'm going to take it all in."

The Steelers beat Seattle 21-10 in Detroit three years ago for the franchise's first Super Bowl win in 26 years.

"We embrace all that's involved in the Super Bowl," Tomlin said. "We're down here to play, we're down here to win. I'm sure there's 30 other teams in the NFL that would like to have this burden this week."

Tomlin replaced Bill Cowher a year after that last Super Bowl victory, but his players said the message never changed: This is Pittsburgh. You're supposed to win, and here's how.

"One of the first things Coach Tomlin said was, 'Does everybody in here believe we can raise the Vince Lombardi Trophy?'" Keisel said. "Everyone said, 'Yeah.' That's always been his point of emphasis ever since. Now we're sitting here with an excellent opportunity to do so. Now, it's about seizing this opportunity."

All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu credits that mindset for self-imposed discipline, something the older Steelers players make certain every new teammate accepts.

"The leaders on our team -- James Farrior, Deshea Townsend, Hines Ward -- they understand what it takes to be successful. What it takes is obediency," Polamalu said. "We're a very obedient team. You could tell us to do anything [and] we'll do it, if our head coach tells us to do it -- whether it's good or not. That obediency allows us to be closer together."

Information from ESPN.com's James Walker and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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