Hines Ward and Kym Johnson Hines Ward and Kym Johnson

You'd think that after winning a marathon as grueling as Dancing With The Stars, the winner would be thinking about lounging on a beach somewhere, sipping fruity drinks with little umbrellas. Not Pittsburgh Steeler wide receiver Hines Ward. The newly crowned Season 12 winner is thinking about summer football practice, the next football season — and having surgery. 

"I've got surgery next week," says Ward, rubbing his left thumb. "All these ligaments are torn (from wear and tear on the football field, not dancing). "So on Tuesday at 7:30 am, I'll be in surgery."

Will he be healed in time for the Steelers' season opener on September 11th? "Yes," he says. "I'll be healed for the season."

The fact that he has virtually no down time comes as something of a shock to a man whose consistency and immense likeability helped him leapfrog over some very stiff competition, including funny girl Kirstie Alley (who came in second) and Disney dynamo Chelsea Kane (third).

"I didn't envision making it this far in the dance competition," says Ward. "My mom didn't even have confidence in me. And it took 13 weeks, so it's a long process. I've sacrificed a lot."   

But his pro partner, Kym Johnson, says she knew all along that Ward was a shoe-in to compete until the bitter end. "When I first started working with Hines, I knew he had all the talent to make it to the finals," says Johnson, who is now a two-time champ after winning season nine with Donny Osmond. Of Ward, she says it was two things that told her everything she needed to know: "I was very lucky to have someone like him because he has natural talent and he works so hard."

There was great concern, however, that Johnson's neck injury, which she sustained practicing a lift with Ward last week, would prevent the talented pair from going all out on the last night of competition. But in their freestyle Monday night, they did spins, drops and lifts as if it had never happened. "I felt so great," says Johnson. "My injury is getting so much better, and we had a great week of rehearsals. I wasn't going to let anything hold me back. This is the finals, so I was really gonna push it, and we had a lot of fun." 

Ward tells a slightly different story. "It was a tough week," he says. "Wednesday and Thursday we got on each other's nerves. I felt like I couldn't get the routine down, with the freestyle. I've never lifted anyone above my shoulders. And I was trying to lift her without hurting her neck. I made her wear a neck brace in practice. Then Friday, Saturday and Sunday we started to feel more comfortable."

Ward says that Dancing will ultimately help him be a better football player. "It's definitely helped me have quick feet, especially the quick step," he says. "As a wide receiver, you have to have quick feet on the field. I'm also the older guy on the field, so it'll definitely help me keep up with the younger guys. I never thought I could dance."

But is he really not celebrating this great achievement? "Naw," he says, laughing, "I'm celebrating. I'm gonna get drunk. They've got some champagne somewhere. We'll have some champagne because this has been a great ride."

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