Of course he recognized the man. If there had been even a
moment's uncertainty, the jersey on his back--a generic red
model decorated with the number 19 and the words MY SON--would
have given him away. But when Georgia senior wide receiver Hines
Ward stepped off the team bus at Sanford Stadium in Athens for
the Bulldogs' Sept. 20 game against Northeast Louisiana, he knew
instantly that it was his father, Hines Ward Sr. This was the
same face he had seen at his high school graduation in 1994,
after an eight-year stretch during which the only communication
between father and son had been through annual phone calls
explaining why there would again be no Christmas presents from
Dad. It was the same face that Hines had been stunned to see in
the crowd two years before at Mississippi and last year at
Auburn and Mississippi State.
Robert Edwards, Ward's teammate and close friend, pulled him
aside as they walked toward the dressing room. "Is your dad
supposed to be here?" Edwards said. "No, man," said Ward. "I'm
And just like that, Ward found himself torn apart again so
someone could have a piece of him. He was 14 months old when his
parents, a black U.S. serviceman and a Korean woman, brought him
from Seoul to the United States. He was barely two when his
father left him in Atlanta with a mother who spoke no English
and had no friends; and he had just turned three when the father
returned and took him away to Louisiana. He was seven when his
mother took him back and 10 before he understood the depth of
her love and devotion.
He went on to win a football scholarship to Georgia and arrived
in the fall of 1994, just in time to catch the last two years of
Ray Goff's tenure as coach. Goff applied Ward like spackle to
cracks in his roster. During one stretch in 1995, Ward played
three positions (wide receiver, running back and quarterback) in
four weeks, performing well at all of them but mastering none.
"If he could have concentrated on one position, whoa, he would
have really been something," says Terrell Davis of the Denver
Broncos, who was a senior running back at Georgia when Ward was
a freshman. Even now Ward is a wide receiver for a team that has
no receivers coach, yet he is the one player on whom Georgia
relies most--as a weapon, as a decoy, as a leader.
This fall he has found his place. It is his second full year at
wideout, and after catching 52 passes last season, he has caught
22 more this year, despite constant double-teaming. Under
second-year coach Jim Donnan, Georgia is early in a rebuilding
process, but showing signs of life. A 47-0 victory over
Mississippi State last Saturday in Athens left the Bulldogs at
4-0 for the first time since 1982, Herschel Walker's last year
between the hedges. Ward is neither blazingly fast (4.5 for the
40) nor exceptionally big (6 feet, 195 pounds), but he has
attracted the attention of NFL scouts with his quickness,
strength and savvy. Ward needs to pass two courses to graduate
in December, just 3 1/2 years after he enrolled, with a major in
consumer economics and a current grade point average of 3.0. All
of his dreams are at last within reach.
They met one night in the spring of 1975 on the street outside a
Seoul nightclub. Hines Ward was 20 years old, serving a tour in
Korea with the 2nd Infantry Division. He was almost 6'4" and
probably no more than a few pounds over the 220 he carried when
he played offensive tackle and defensive end for the Carroll
High Bulldogs back in Monroe, La. Ward might have gone on to
play for Eddie Robinson at Grambling, as his brother Wayne would
go on to do, but he spent too many nights drinking cheap wine,
consuming so much that he was vomiting blood from the ulcers he
had developed before he left high school. "I should have hit the
books. I shouldn't have been out there drinking, killing myself
at an early age," says Ward. "But that all dawned on me way too
late." He enlisted in the Army a few months after graduating
from high school.
Kim Young He was a 25-year-old cashier in a Seoul variety store,
one of two daughters of a widowed mother. She had gone out that
night with a friend to cruise the clubs.
She and Ward were together a few months when Kim became pregnant
with the only child she would bear. They married--"My mother
always taught me, When you get somebody pregnant, you do the
right thing," says Ward--and on March 8, 1976, Hines Ward Jr.
was born. Roughly 14 months later the three of them came to the
U.S., where Ward was assigned to Fort McPherson in Georgia. Only
a few more months passed before the couple split up. Hines Sr.
took a tour in Germany, leaving his toddler son in the Atlanta
suburb of East Point with Kim, who had found her first job,
cleaning mobile homes. When Hines Sr. returned to the U.S., he
took his son home to Louisiana, where he remarried. But for the
next four years Hines Jr. did not even live with his father but
instead with his paternal grandmother, Martha Ward--"I raised
him from three to seven," she says. "Nobody else. Me"--while
Hines Sr. made occasional visits from his new home in
Shreveport, 100 miles west.
Outside Atlanta, Kim was lonely beyond description and
hopelessly lost in a foreign culture. "I was so scared, I
thought, I don't know anybody, I don't know anything. How can I
live in this country?" She did what she knew best: She worked,
beginning an exhausting climb to social and financial stability
in hopes of being reunited with her son, which became her one
goal. "I missed my boy so much," she says, "but I had to make
money." She took a succession of low-paying jobs, sometimes
holding down three at once and working from dawn until the
middle of the night. She would occasionally visit her child in
Louisiana, where the racial tension between her and Ward's
family was palpable, and in the summer of 1983, she called
Martha Ward to ask for her son. The grandmother did not
hesitate. "I told Hines's father, 'I'm not going to be part of
taking a child away from his mama,'" says Martha, now 64 and
still living in Monroe. She put the seven-year-old on a plane to
Atlanta, where he would begin anew with someone he knew only as
"the Korean lady that used to come and visit me and give me toys."
Kim showered her child with gifts and cooked American food for
him, but Hines was impossibly cruel, not understanding why he
was in this strange place. "I back-talked her something
terrible," recalls Ward. "One day when she drove me to school in
fourth grade, I ducked down in the seat so the other kids
wouldn't see me, because I didn't want them to know she was my
mom. I got out, and when I looked back at the car, she was
Overmatched for three years, Kim sent Hines to spend the summer
of 1986 with his father, who was by then remarried for a second
time. "I got my butt whipped all summer long," says Ward. "It
was hell on me." Some of the spankings, which Ward says were
incessant, were accompanied by admonitions about respecting his
mother. His father denies hitting him, though he admits he isn't
certain. "I know I threatened to whip him, I know I was harsh
with him," says Hines Sr. "I don't think I ever did whip him,
but I can't really recall." In one way or another, that summer
righted Hines. He went back to his mother as a 10-year-old with
a fresh perspective. "I said to myself, This is my mother and
this is how it's going to be. I'd better grow up," he recalls.
He opened his eyes to what his mother was doing for him. How she
would rise before dawn to go to a job preparing airline meals
but leave his breakfast on the table, waiting. How she would
return at night, prepare his supper and then head for another
job, across the street at a convenience store. How she was
constantly exhausted, but she was able to buy him everything he
desired. "I had the Air Jordan shoes, I had a little Ford Escort
when I got my driver's license," recalls Ward. Kim didn't know
enough English to help her son with his schoolwork, but she
implored him to do it. She also begged him to stay clean, away
from the drugs and petty crime that drew so many kids in the
Hines developed into a good student and an exceptional athlete.
As a quarterback, he flourished in the Florida State-style
shotgun spread offense at Forest Park High and was recruited
aggressively by Florida State, Nebraska, Notre Dame and
Tennessee. The Florida Marlins also offered him a $25,000 bonus
to play baseball, but he turned them all down and chose Georgia,
where he could remain close to his mother.
Kim worked and saved with such vigor that she now lives in an
immaculate, three-bedroom ranch house in a middle-class
subdivision in the Atlanta suburb of Rex. She also owns her car
and the one that Hines drives in Athens--staggering possessions
for a woman who has seldom worked for more than minimum wage.
Hines's trophies adorn the hearth and mantle of the fireplace in
her living room. There is also a picture of Kim at age 23 on the
mantel, and the difference between the beautiful young woman in
the photograph and the frail and somber 48-year-old today is a
lifetime that has been measured in hours and shifts. "My life, I
would say, has been a hard life and a sad life," she says. "But
in my country, a mother cares for a child first." She knows of
her ex-husband's reappearance, and when that subject is
mentioned, her delicate face turns harsh. "We not hear anything
for many years," Kim says, crying. "Now he thinks Hines will go
pro, and he wants money."
Hines Ward Sr. is an old 43. He works days as a corrections
officer at a state prison in Monroe and nights as a produce
clerk at Wal-Mart. When Hines Jr. was in high school, his father
took out a mail subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
to read about his games. He drove to Atlanta to his son's high
school graduation, something that tore Kim up and confused Hines
Jr. Now he's coming to games, which he says isn't because of his
son's success but because he truly wants to build a
relationship. "I don't know if my son hates me or likes me,"
says the father. "Sometimes I think he's mad at me, and I accept
that. I didn't understand responsibility. I was young. All I can
say is I was young."
Ward came to Georgia in 1994 to be a quarterback, then found
himself watching on the sidelines that first August as a
fourth-stringer. One afternoon two weeks into the season,
Terrell Davis went down and Goff needed a running back. Goff
knew that Ward had been elusive as a high school quarterback, so
he sent him in at tailback, called a sweep and watched him weave
50 yards through the first-team defense. Even though Ward was a
freshman who had never played a down at running back, he started
the next game in place of Davis and ran for 117 yards on 14
carries against Northeast Louisiana. Two weeks later he went for
137 yards on 22 carries and caught five passes for 24 more
against Alabama. After Davis (who has become one of the best
running backs in the NFL) returned at midseason, Goff sometimes
played him at fullback to give Ward more time at tailback.
"Hines just had so much talent, they didn't know what to do with
him," says Davis. Ward finished the year with 423 yards on the
ground and 101 yards on 19 receptions, a stunning start for a
high school quarterback.
But if 1994 was odd, 1995 was ridiculous. Ward injured his right
shoulder in spring practice, opening the door for Robert Edwards
to move from cornerback to tailback. Ward sensed that Edwards
could become a star (he did, scoring five touchdowns in his
first start), and also sensed that his body, even though bulked
up from 160 to 185 pounds, would break down under the pounding a
tailback takes. He asked to move to wide receiver, and the
coaches complied; they wanted him on the field. Ward caught five
passes for 103 yards in the season opener against South
Carolina. In the next game Edwards broke his foot and Goff moved
Ward back to running back.
Two weeks later his situation got truly bizarre. After
quarterback Mike Bobo suffered a season-ending knee injury in a
loss to Mississippi, Goff told Ward, "Son, we're moving you back
to quarterback this week." Ward was first thrilled, then
terrified. Alabama, a team with a ferocious pass rush, was next
up, and he hadn't taken a snap since preseason drills a year
earlier--and very few then. "I didn't know anything," he
recalls. He spent a week watching tape, skipping all his
classes, and when game time came, he was still grossly
unprepared. When the first play was signaled from the sideline,
Ward had no idea what it was. His first pass was intercepted,
and after a few series', Goff pulled him. He was booed lustily
by the crowd of more than 85,000.
Ward has never forgiven Goff for putting him in that situation.
"I felt like he was trying to save his butt from getting fired,"
says Ward. "He didn't care about me." Goff kept Ward on the
bench the next week in a win over Clemson, the low point of
Ward's career. But when senior backup quarterback Brian Smith
was injured in the eighth game of the season, Goff went to the
spread shotgun and Ward passed for 1,159 yards in the last four
games. Georgia lost three of those games, including a 34-27
Peach Bowl thriller against Virginia in which Ward threw for 413
Predictably, Goff was fired. When Georgia hired Donnan from
Marshall that winter, Ward was the first player to visit the new
coach. "He told me he wanted to help the team in any way
possible," says Donnan, "and he said he wanted to do it at one
position. I told him I had just the position." Donnan's offense
uses a T-back, a receiver who sometimes lines up in a slot,
sometimes splits wide, sometimes operates out of the backfield.
He catches passes and occasionally runs sweeps. The position is
perfect for Ward. There is also a package of plays in which Ward
plays quarterback. Should Donnan opt to use these, Ward could
become the first player in NCAA history to accumulate more than
1,000 regular-season yards in a career in four offensive
categories: passing, receiving, rushing and returning kicks.
On the day of his father's first appearance in Athens, Ward
walked him to his car. "I know your mother hates me," Hines Sr.
said. "I just don't want you to hate me."
"I don't hate you," said the son. "You're my father. But as far
as you coming around here, I don't think that's too cool."
On a rainy day this fall, Ward sat in a room overlooking
Georgia's practice fields. "Here I was, a little kid, and he
didn't keep in touch or help my mom out financially," he said.
"But my mom, she never forgot about me." If he plays in the NFL
someday, Ward will buy his mother a new car and a new house, and
he will take her home to Korea, where she has been just twice in
20 years and where he has never visited. "My mom used to tell
me, 'I live every day of my life for you,'" said Ward. "I
understand that now. The older I get, the more I understand."