NBC Brings Hines Ward Aboard

You can say Hines Ward is quite happy about his new gig as an NFL analyst for NBC. He'll start on "Football Night In America" on September 9, right before the team he retired from, the Pittsburgh Steelers, takes on the Denver Broncos.

After playing his entire NFL career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Hines Ward has been drafted by a new team: NBC.

Ward, the wide receiver who played for fourteen years in Pittsburgh before calling it a career in March, will be starting his retirement from football the way many notable NFL players do: by becoming an NFL analyst. He’ll serve in that capacity, and much more, as part of a new contract with NBC Sports.

In what is being described as a “multi-year agreement,” Ward will not only appear regularly on the network’s marquee NFL highlights program, “Football Night In America,” he will also get plenty of face time on NBC’s cable property, NBC Sports Network, serving as an analyst on a weekly college football program on Saturdays (what are the odds that it’ll be called “College Football Night In America”?), and show up on the nightly “NBC Sports Talk” program for several days during the week.

Ward’s appearance during NBC’s 76-hour Super Bowl XLVI pregame show this year (it was actually six hours, but the singing NBC actors made it seem like 76) was an apparent audition for a regular spot on NBC’s NFL team. “I am really excited,” said Ward in a statement released by NBC. “It’s not every day that you get the chance to work for a powerhouse like the NBC Sports Group.” [It’s also not every day that popular athletes, let alone regular people, randomly refer to NBC Sports Group.]

“It is a big honor for me and I am looking forward to making the most of this great opportunity.”

And a timely one at that: when Ward reports for duty on “Football Night” for the first time on September 9, it will be prior to kickoff of his old team squaring off against Peyton Manning and his new team, the Broncos. The Steelers are also scheduled to play division rivals on NBC in Weeks 7 and 11, with the latter week carrying the possibility of being flexed – but with Week 11 being Ravens/Steelers, if I were a betting person, I’d bank on that one airing on NBC as scheduled.

Ward follows in the footsteps of another beloved Steelers legend, Jerome Bettis. The running back also joined NBC as an analyst upon his retirement, and became a member of the initial “Football Night” cast of characters. However, after three years, NBC decided that “the Bus” stopped there, and did not renew their contract with Bettis. In fact, it was after the 2009 season that NBC removed Bettis and Tiki Barber as “Football Night” analysts, replacing them with Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison, who are expected to remain in those roles, even as NBC brings Ward aboard in 2012.

This is the second of two big NBC hires this month, and I’ll tell you why: they’re investing in one individual for being a regular on “Football Night In America” among other contributions in the sports arena (Ward); while in Michelle Beadle, they’re hiring someone to cover some sports and some entertainment criteria. See, NBC made a big mistake when they hired one person – Tiki Barber – to do both. It failed, miserably, and with these dual hires, they realize that.

You would have to think that WPXI, the NBC affiliate in Pittsburgh, is particularly proud that Hines Ward will now be part of the station’s on-air network personnel. I just hope they didn’t show him in a Ravens uniform when they broke the news.

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