The Steelers wide receiver and former Super Bowl MVP won the title, besting actresses Kirstie Alley and Chelsea Kane to become the season 12 champ.
"You are the MVP of 'Dancing With the Stars' season 12," judge Carrie Ann Inaba said after Ward and professional partner Kym Johnson finished their last dance. "You learned how to lead the dancing, not only in the dance, but you led your partner out of injury. You dance with heart and it shows."
Ward said after the show that he owes the victory to his partner, hard work and the fans.
"The competition has been so close all year, we knew it was going to come down to voting," he said, "so we want to thank our fans."
Judge Bruno Tonioli said Ward "really is like a ray of sunshine when he enters the arena."
Ward was chosen by viewer votes combined with judges' scores. All three couples emerged with perfect scores after dancing Tuesday night, which kept the competition tight. Ward came into the season finale tied for first place with Kane, who finished in last place when the votes were tallied. Alley finished second.
Alley was a fan favorite all season, whittling down her body as the daily dance exercise allowed her to shed 38 inches by Tuesday. She was also one of the most amusing contestants on the ballroom floor, losing her shoes during one performance and always getting through her challenges with a smile and a quip.
"I know I'm not alone when I say I love you for being you," Inaba said Tuesday after Alley and partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy finished performing a cha cha. Alley wore the same dress she had worn on day one of the competition - nipped and tucked by 38 inches.
"I'm just going to miss dancing with Maks," Alley said of her partner.
Kane, who waltzed to the theme from "Harry Potter" with professional partner Mark Ballas, was the first to be eliminated Tuesday. But she wasn't too upset.
"The fact that I'm here (in the finals) is super flattering," the 22-year-old actress said after the season finale. "For me, I'll never experience anything like this ever again."
Wendy Williams, Kendra Wilkinson, Sugar Ray Leonard and other celebrity contestants cast off the hit ABC show earlier in the season brought their sometimes stunning, sometimes wacky moves back to the ballroom for the finale.
The show opened with an all-cast routine and the Black Eyed Peas singing their new single, "Don't Stop the Party," to an energized audience.
Besides the Peas, the Go-Go's played their classic "We Got the Beat" for a frenzied dance routine, and Josh Groban sang "You Raise Me Up" while Petra Nemcova danced. Sara Evans performed "A Little Bit Stronger" at the end of the show, before Ward won the mirrorball trophy.
Famed sports announcer Michael Buffer called Leonard and pro wrestler Chris Jericho to the dance floor for a tough-guy dance-off. Wilkinson reprised her sexy, booty-and-bosom-shaking cha cha, then nearly fell off the judges' table when she finished. Radio personality Mike Catherwood, who was the first contestant dismissed this season, poked fun at his lack of dancing skills and stripped down to a leotard during his goofy routine.
Ralph Macchio, who dazzled judges when the show first started with his quick step, returned with partner Karina Smirnoff for a reprise.
Williams was the only contender who didn't take to the dance floor. She instead interviewed herself during a segment where she said Alley would "be a perfect drinking partner."
The 35-year-old Ward is the second professional football player to win the "Dancing" crown. Emmitt Smith won in 2006.
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