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  • Pittsburgh Steeler wide receiver Hines Ward made the catch of his life last night (May 25), winning the Mirrorball on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.” It could have gone any of three ways with Kirstie Alley or Chelsea Kane in his place.

    Alley was the underdog through out the competition and played that to great effect, winning the sympathy vote week after week even though she was by far the worst dancer on the show. Give her the Miss Popularity award.

    Kane was by far the most accomplished dancer. But she lacked a compelling back story.

    The Disney channel actress, who is only 22, never connected emotionally with fans, even though her dancing was always top notch.

    Ward, however, combined both attributes. The former Super Bowl most valuable player came into the competition with a solid fan base. And his athletic ability paid off on the dance floor.

    “We’ve had some great footballers on ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ but I don’t think any compare with Hines Ward,” Judge Len Goodman said in well deserved praise.

    Even though he had no dance experience before starting the show, Ward developed poise and grace on the dance floor.

    He also demonstrated an incredible work ethic and great enthusiasm and emotion when necessary, throughout.

    Not surprisingly, professional athletes have won, or been top finishers, on the show more than any other profession, including show business.

    That’s because they apply the same athleticism and dedication that made them stars in their own sports.

    The winners include Olympians Apolo Anton Ohno, Kristi Yamagucy and gymnast Shawn Johnson.

    Ward also joins former NFL running back Emmitt Smith in the winner’s circle. NFL stars Jason Taylor, Warren Sapp and Jerry Rice were second place finishers, along with Olympic skater Evan Lysacek.

    In that regard, legendary boxer Sugar Ray Leonard exited way too soon. But he’d been out of the spotlight too long to be remembered by most viewers.

    Ward was gracious and humble in victory. He gave all of the credit to his pro dancer Kym Johnson.

    They had great chemistry on the dance floor.

    “With football, it takes all 53 guys. With this mirrorball, it was just Kym and I together in the studio putting in the hours. I’m just glad I didn’t let her down,” he said.

    Ward was obviously making a reference to the neck injury Johnson suffered during a rehearsal when he fell on her.

    She doggedly continued the competition and continued to earn top scores, drawing some of the sympathy vote that Alley had so cleverly monopolized.

    “I’m so impressed with you, the way you partnered with her through that routine,” Inaba said. “The connection was beyond what we ask for in a dance routine.”

    “I was just elated that she was out there dancing three days after that horrific injury that she just had,” Ward said wiping away tears.

    The couple earned five perfect scores for their final six dances.