Hines Ward has smiled and laid out an unsuspecting defender for the last time.

Ward was released by the Steelers after he had fallen down the team’s depth chart as his speed began to fade. During a press conference at noon today a teary-eyed Ward made the announcement Steelers nation expected, saying that he’d rather walk away from the game than play for another team.

Ward struggled throughout the 2011 season. His 46 receptions and 381 receiving yards were his lowest total since his rookie year in 1998, and his 8.3 yards per reception were a career low.

When Pittsburgh first made the emotional decision to cut a fan favorite, Ward said he entertained the idea of playing elsewhere, but putting on a different uniform would have been too difficult.

From PFT:

“It is my love for the game that makes me want to continue playing. I feel like I have a few good years left where I can make a difference and help a team. I am a competitor and I would love nothing more than to get back to another Super Bowl. But that’s the passion in me.”

Ward also talked at length about his ties to Pittsburgh, and his passion for Steelers football that will now extend into retirement.

“This city and this organization means the world to me. So today I came back to Pittsburgh to grant Steeler Nation this one last request. Today I am officially retiring as a Pittsburgh Steeler. And as much as I will miss football, my teammates, coaches and everything about the game, I don’t want to play in any other uniform. The black and gold runs deep with me, and I will remain a Steeler for life.”