View Full Version : Plays hard? Plays dirty? Ward gets split decision

01-29-2009, 06:46 PM
Plays hard? Plays dirty? Ward gets split decision
Jan. 29, 2009
By Clark Judge
CBSSports.com Senior Writer

TAMPA, Fla. -- OK, here's the question: Hines Ward ... dirty or not?

No, said a handful of GMs and player personnel directors I contacted. He's tough. He's physical. He hits hard. And he's clean, clean, clean.

"Good blocker. Class player. Physical player," said one general manager. "I want more guys like him. He's the consummate pro."

Not according to one head coach who faced Ward and the Steelers this year. In fact, he went into great detail describing how Ward would pass up head-on blocks, then circle behind his targets and drill them through the ear holes. (Gotta be the Queen City Bungleholes - mesa)

"Why do you think everyone hates the guy?" he said.

Well, let's ask Ward. He's here this week, and he's available for your questions. And once you get past the sprained knee that will not ... absolutely will not ... keep him from playing in Sunday's Super Bowl the conversation turns to Ward's reputation as a blocker.

Ward is one of the most effective blockers in the business, and don't take it from me. Take it from Cincinnati linebacker Keith Rivers. Ward ended his season with a crushing blow that broke the rookie's jaw.

But that's where the trouble begins. When Sports Illustrated a few years ago ran a poll of players, asking them to list the dirtiest in the game, Ward was fifth. In an earlier questionnaire, he was second. There were defensive backs on that list; defensive and offensive linemen. But there was only one wide receiver.

"I don't know why people hate me," said Ward. "I have a great smile. I'm always happy. Why would they hate me? I'm not a bad guy."

That's a good question, except I know the Baltimore Ravens didn't talk about a bounty on Santonio Holmes or Nate Washington. It was Ward who rattled them, and, presumably, it was for hits like the one that teammate Limas Sweed put on the Ravens' Corey Ivy last weekend.

It was fair. It was legal. And it was brutal, with the defensive back left dazed and confused. When I asked one of the Steelers if that would have happened were Sweed with another team he shook his head.

The suggestion was clear: Sweed took his cue from Ward.

"He may be a receiver, but he has a linebacker mentality," cornerback Ike Taylor said of Ward. "He feels like if you have an opportunity to hit me you're going to hit me. So you best believe that if I have the opportunity to hit you I'm going to do the same thing.

"A lot of receivers don't do that. In fact, I think he's the only receiver to do that ... to have that defensive mentality where he doesn't waste an opportunity to put a lick on people."

The 49ers' Jerry Rice was a superb blocker, and you're excused if you didn't know. He made his name with more catches and more catches for touchdowns than anyone in league history. Nevertheless, his teammates marveled at what he could do ... and did ... as a blocker.

The Cardinals' Anquan Boldin is another wide receiver who blocks and blocks well. He's tough. He's mean. But he's no Hines Ward.

"Hines has been credited with some big hits, and he's going to take them when he gets his shots," said Pittsburgh receivers coach Randy Fichtner. "He knows they're going to take them at him, but the number of times they hit a quarterback or a running back or a wide receiver compared to the number of times we hit them? It's not even a comparison.

"I think what happens is that these guys know that when he's around he can affect a ballgame. They know that he will crack a safety, and the hesitancy of that safety knowing where he is might be as good as throwing a block -- which could help us spring Willie (Parker)."

That sounds good, since Parker was stuffed last week after shredding San Diego for 146 yards. Plus, there's a feeling that if the Steelers can get him going again they control the football and hammer the Cardinals. But this just in: The last time these two met Parker had 39 yards on 19 carries.

So that means Ward probably makes his name by catching the football, and no problem there. He led the Steelers in that department the last nine seasons. Of course, he also led the Steelers' receivers in kill shots.

"What Hines has been doing year in and year out," said Taylor, "like breaking jaws, knocking safeties out, giving concussions ... well, the resume speaks for itself."

This year's resume includes a $5,000 fine for a hit against the Ravens and another $10,000 for a blow to a defender's head in the Steelers' defeat of Jacksonville. But so what? Supporters insist the guy takes too much grief for doing what most others will not ... which is taking out defensive backs with big hits.

"I know my coaches love what I bring to this game," said Ward. "That's all that really matters. Am I dirty? Am I good? I like the people who think I'm good. The people who think I'm bad ... I'm sorry."

01-29-2009, 06:50 PM
Forever a Steelers legend, let there be no doubt. The toughest receiver to ever play the game, and a perfect fit I'm not sure anyone ever could have envisioned after Swann & Stallworth.

01-29-2009, 06:52 PM
The only thing id want on this team more than Hines Ward............Is TWO Hines Wards.

01-29-2009, 06:57 PM
The man is a HOFamer...maybe not first ballot because he never "dominated" his position...but the stats + intangibles he brings to the game are inarguable...