"Everyone loves Kirstie [Alley]," Ward, 35, told reporters backstage after the show. "So when it comes down to voting, I didn't know how I'd match up to Kirstie."
Yet, as the results proved, Ward and his partner, pro Kym Johnson, came out on top. "It's just phenomenal," Ward said. "I didn't want to let Kym down. I really wanted her to win her second mirror-ball trophy."
When it comes to convincing his fellow Pittsburgh Steelers teammates to participate on the show, Ward has reservations.
"It's grueling, it's grueling," he told PEOPLE about his experience on the series. "I disrespected the show when I first came on. I was like, 'I can do that.' But I've been doing it. There's a lot of hard work that goes into it."
Ward also has advice for anyone who might attempt what he's achieved: "Be prepared to work your butt off. You're going to lose weight, but it'll be very grueling on your feet."
As for Johnson, who injured her neck, she has no regrets about fighting through to the end. "I wanted to push myself, and I'm glad I did," she said. "It was worth it. I feel great."