When it comes to Madden NFL 09, Hines Ward is the slowest receiver on the Steelers with an 87 speed rating. "You don't see me blazing by guys in real life, but I'm pretty good after I catch the ball," says Ward when told of his slow-footed doppelganger. "I caught a ball against the Atlanta Falcons and ran with one shoe on, and DeAngelo Hall, who is supposed to be one of the fastest guys in the NFL, he couldn't catch me. If he couldn't catch me with one shoe, then apparently I'm not that slow."
The man has a point. But even with the slower speed in the game, Ward has consistently been one of the best receivers in the game for years, mirroring his rise in real life to the star receiver who is just as liable to make a game-winning catch as he is to catch defenders off guard with some of the most crushing blocks the receiver position has ever seen.
And he does it all with a smile.
"I'm not going to sit here and tell you that I'm a 4.3 guy, but I'm not a 4.8 guy either. I'm definitely not the slowest dude on my team."
Ward, who claims to have been a big-time Madden addict back in college, says he still spends too much time throwing to himself in the game, but he just can't help it when he sees No. 86 running down the field.
"Seeing myself for the first time in a video game was exciting to me," says Ward. "Now I'm actually trying to go around and collect every game I've ever been in so I can show my son. But there are so many Xbox and PlayStation games, I have a ton of Madden games now.
"And it's amazing to me how good the graphics are getting. The guy on the screen looks almost exactly like me. But to me, the big thing is how realistic the game is getting. I think with Madden co-signing the game, the guys who actually make it every year really buy into the fact that they need to make it as realistic as possible. I remember the old days when 3rd and 30 wasn't a big deal. You could just throw it up and someone would make a play. This last game, there was a lot more strategy to it. You need to play the game within the game now. You need to not only play the game and react quickly to what's happening, you almost have to be a coach as well. It's really incredible."
But that doesn't mean Madden NFL 10 still doesn't need some improvements.
One thing Ward wants to see is the addition of more alternate uniforms. "I want to see more throwbacks make it in. It helps keep the history of the game alive. I also want to see a better way for them to do the player ratings. Guys are always looking at their numbers. Like I said about my 87 speed, I guess I'm happy I'm not a 70, but still, 87? They'll look at guys who have a breakout year and they beef them up so much in the game, but then in real life something happens and they don't have the season they're expected to have, but they're still beefed up way more than they should be in Madden. I just hope it gets more realistic in that point of view. They need to take more into account than just one season. All in all, though, I'm pretty happy with the game. The fact that so many kids out there play as the Steelers and use me to help them win, it actually feels like a big honor."
And Ward isn't the only member of the Steelers who cites gaming as a hobby as the team spends some serious time playing shooters like Halo 3 and Call of Duty on the Xbox 360. "A bunch of guys go online to play each other," says Ward. "We system link the games so we play four-on-four and have team wars. It gets pretty competitive, especially during training camp. We'll setup two huge TV's, both facing opposite directions, and we'll play some seriously competitive games."
Cool thing is, the online team wars include both current and former Steelers as the players use the 360 to keep in touch.
"Kimo von Oelhoffen, he'll still get online sometimes. Jerame Tuman gets online and plays. So it's a great way to keep up with some of the guys who aren't on the Steelers anymore."
As for the game that originally got Hines hooked, he goes all the way back to an old school favorite. "Tecmo Bowl is a classic," he says. "You only had four plays, and if the offense and defense both picked the same play, there was an all-out blitz. Bo Jackson was on there and he was unstoppable on offense. Lawrence Taylor was unstoppable on defense. Growing up in my neighborhood, everyone had a favorite team and we all played as it in the game. Everyone wanted to be the Raiders at first because of Bo, but I also liked to play as San Francisco because of Ronnie Lott.
"Then when the second Tecmo Bowl came out (Tecmo Super Bowl), that's when I got even more hooked because they had it where you could finally run play-action and the defense didn't know what was coming. That added another dimension. It's funny to think back on Tecmo Bowl, how it ran side-to-side, then think about how far games have come."
And they've come so far in the Steelers locker room, that some serious bragging rights are involved.
Only thing is, Ward says defensive end Brett Keisel dominates much of the action. "He's a beast on it," laughs Ward. "I always try to get on his team, then I do the trash talking for him. I know he can back it up."
Now if only EA Sports would do something about Ward's speed.
Maybe if they gave his character only one shoe, he could outrun them all.