To a man, the Ravens stood before the microphones yesterday, displayed great professionalism and poise, and suppressed their deeply held, collective belief that Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward is the spawn of Satan.
They might not literally believe that, of course - and even if they did, they were certainly under a Hines-inspired gag order anyway. But it is safe to say there aren't a lot of warm, fuzzy feelings toward the man who is one of the NFL's best receivers and one of its most potent instigators. And they face him Sunday, two months after the words "Ward" and "bounty" were uttered in the same sentence on a radio show by Terrell Suggs.
No, the Ravens don't necessarily like Ward. Ravens fans are sure to make it clear they don't like him. But they do respect him - everything about him, even the things that make him so unlikable, such as his chatter, his smirks, his flexes and his teeth-rattling blocks when they're least expected (on Ravens in particular, such as Ed Reed and Bart Scott in recent years).
And why not? Were Ward doing these things in a purple-and-black uniform, rather than gold and black, he might be one of the most beloved Ravens of all time.
If ever there were players cut from the same mold, it's Ward and the central figures on the Ravens, the ones who give them their identity, the ones who are respected and feared, but also despised, and, most of all, uncannily effective in getting into opposing heads and under skins. (Ask Jarret Johnson, who probably hasn't been allowed to forget the out-of-bounds hit on Ward that shifted momentum in the second half of their first meeting this season.)
It should be no surprise that, at least in public, Ray Lewis - hated as much in Pittsburgh as Ward is here - had no cross words for Ward and praised him at length before yesterday's practice. Asked whether he would like or respect Ward if he were a teammate, Lewis said: "I like him and respect him right now. ... He's a hell of a competitor. You can't take that away from that guy, and he plays the game one way. Hey, you're not going to like everybody; everybody won't like everybody in this business. But the way the man plays football, you have to commend him for that.
"Outside of that, if you look at anything else, then I think it becomes more personal."
Ward certainly has never taken things personally. The games against the Ravens might have extra spice, but he has enraged opponents and fans all over the NFL throughout his career. Not long after the "bounty" talk in Baltimore heated up, Ward incited several Cincinnati Bengals to swear vengeance after his block broke the jaw and ended the season of linebacker Keith Rivers.
For what it's worth, none openly threatened to "kill" Ward, as Scott did last season. Nothing even remotely that incendiary has escaped any Raven's lips this week. Take that as a very positive sign.
The amount of time spent talking and worrying about Ward - a 6-foot (maybe), 32-year-old receiver, as he himself enjoys pointing out - two months before they even played again, was mildly embarrassing. Showing any sign Ward was in their heads now, much less Sunday with so much on the line, would be devastating to their hopes.
The Ravens know how many games can be won just by showing up because the other team is too focused on image and reputation, even that of one particular player.
Which, again, makes Ward their kind of guy.
Listen to David Steele on Fridays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).