Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward says he's the most hated man in Baltimore and he has the names of his enemies to prove it. It is a long list of former or current Ravens: Rod Woodson. Tony Siragusa. Chris McAlister. Corey Fuller. Bart Scott. Ed Reed. Terrell Suggs.
Now, apparently, you can add another name.
"I don't think their head coach likes me," Ward said the other day. "I tried to shake his hand before we played them the last time. He gave me a fake handshake. He didn't even look at me. That's fine. Whatever."
You should have seen Ward grin. It's Baltimore week, one of his two favorite weeks of the year. You know his other favorite, right? The other Baltimore week.
The more enemies, the better.
"It's not the Super Bowl, but it's going to have a playoff feel to it," Ward said of the Steelers' hair-pull with the Ravens Sunday night in Baltimore. "The hitting will be the hardest in any game all year. It's the one game you circle. Prime time. They'll be dressed in all black. The last man standing ... "
If it's Ward, he'll be talking. One of the best nights of his career came when the Steelers went into Baltimore in the 2008 season and beat the Ravens, 13-9. Did he ever give an earful to Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Reed after that game. "There is nothing like beating Baltimore in their house," he said that night. Of course, Ward had to take it big time from Lewis in October after the Ravens' 17-14 win at Heinz Field. "They deserved to talk that day. They won," Ward said. "You don't want 'em to talk, don't let 'em beat you."
That's Ward's plan Sunday night. If the Steelers do win, he figures to play a huge role with a big catch or a big block or maybe just by driving Lewis, Reed and linebacker Terrell Suggs crazy. It seems as if he's always doing something to annoy the Ravens.
"Ray and I are OK. We have the same agent," Ward said. "But the other guys? We're not so cool. Ed and I have seen each other at the Pro Bowl and we didn't even speak."
Other players have added to the lunacy of the Steelers-Ravens rivalry. Steelers linebacker Joey Porter went to the Ravens' bus after a game and called out Lewis to fight. Scott, a former Ravens linebacker, put a hard hit on Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, then bragged about feeling the air rushing out of Roethlisberger's body. Siragusa, a former Ravens nose tackle, suggested Baltimore fans follow Steelers fans into the rest rooms and beat the heck out of them.
But, more often than not, Ward has been in the middle of all the hatred.
That goes back to the 2001 season when Ward popped the Hall of Famer Woodson with a block, bloodying his nose and prompting him to swear to get even. Before the teams' next game, Ward revealed the Ravens had a bounty out on him and fellow receiver Plaxico Burress. "[Former Steelers teammate] Hank Poteat came to us at breakfast. His sister goes with one of the Ravens. She had told him. ... The first one to knock one of us out of the game got the pot."
In the '05 season, McAlister, a former Ravens cornerback, left no doubt how he felt about Ward. "A [bleep]," he called him. Not much room for misinterpretation there.
In the '07 season, Ward hit Scott and Reed so hard with blocks that Scott threatened to "kill" him. The next season, Suggs went on a national radio show and admitted the Ravens had a bounty on Ward and Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall. "Hines Ward is definitely a dirty player, a cheap-shot artist," Suggs said.
Ward's reaction to all of this the other day? "I don't know why they don't like me. I just play football."
It's nice to think Ward won't be involved in another controversy Sunday night, at least not one with his team. When the Steelers played in Baltimore last season, Roethlisberger sat out with concussion symptoms from a hit the week before in Kansas City. The Steelers lost, 20-17, in overtime with Dennis Dixon at quarterback, prompting Ward to all but call out Roethlisberger on national television, saying he would have played with a concussion.
The good news is that Ward and Roethlisberger have made up. The same can't be said of Ward and Scott. "Oh, no, he hates me the most," Ward said, grinning again.
In the Steelers' win at Baltimore in '08, Ward peeled back to block Scott only to go over top of him when Scott ducked. "They put a bounty on me and then he ducks!" Ward crowed afterward. Of course, Scott responded before the Steelers beat the Ravens in the AFC championship game that season. "His time will come. He'll get his," he said of Ward.
Scott, who has moved on to the New York Jets, probably has Dec. 19 circled. That's the day the Jets play the Steelers at Heinz Field. But Scott will have to get in line for a shot at Ward. The Ravens have him lined up this week. Then, the Cincinnati Bengals play at Heinz Field Dec. 12. They haven't liked Ward since he broke linebacker Keith Rivers' jaw with a crushing block in the '08 season.
I'm guessing Ward will show up for all of the games. Ron Cook: email@example.com.
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