To sportswriters, Hines Ward is the gift that keeps on giving whenever the Ravens and Steelers get set to play each other.
Case in point: A column about the Steelers wide receiver appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Wednesday, four days before Sunday's showdown between the two bitter rivals at M&T Bank Stadium.
In the column by Ron Cook, Ward says he's the most hated man in Baltimore.
Me, I'd take issue with that right away.
I'd say Bob Irsay holds that title. Or the guy who designed that hideous Man/Woman sculpture in front of Penn Station.
Or whoever keeps jacking up the beer prices at Ravens and Orioles games.
In the column, Ward goes on to say that Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs hate him, as well as former Ravens Rod Woodson, Tony Siragusa, Chris McAlister, Corey Fuller and Bart Scott.
He names everyone but the team chaplain.
Then he drops this bomb:
"I don't think their head coach likes me," Ward tells Cook. "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."
OK, Cook writes that Ward was grinning when he said that John Harbaugh doesn't like him.
Maybe the Pro Bowl wide-out was serious. Or maybe he was just trying to stir things up. Personally, I'd go with Door No. 2 on that one. But with Ward, you never really know.
Maybe in the old days, those ancient times before the Internet, the story would die right there.
But about five seconds after Cook filed the column, it was on computer screens all over Baltimore.
And when Harbaugh stepped up to the microphone Wednesday for his weekly media session at the Castle, guess what was brought up almost immediately?
Hey, coach, how come you hate Hines Ward? He says you didn't even give him a proper handshake the last time you guys played the Steelers.
"I didn't know there was a barometer with pre-game handshakes," Harbaugh said with a chuckle. "That's good to know. I need to work on that. I'll take it as constructive criticism. It'll be an opportunity to improve my pre-game decorum and courteousness with players."
OK, Harbaugh managed to laugh the whole thing off. And the whole episode illustrated how things get blown out of proportion when these two teams prepare to play each other.
But the truth is that aside from Ward doing his usual yapping, the players on both teams have been remarkably close-mouthed this week.
No one wants to say anything that ends up on the other team's bulletin board. Fine, I get that. But, man, does it get boring.
After Harbaugh was through talking to reporters Wednesday, the Ravens trotted out quarterback Joe Flacco, running back Ray Rice and linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs to talk about Sunday's big game.
Here's the gist of what we learned from all four: they have tremendous respect for the Steelers. Ravens-Steelers is a great rivalry. There'll be a lot of hard hitting out there Sunday. But this week feels no different than any other in terms of preparing for the game.
On the other hand, the Ravens sounded like Cedric the Entertainer & Friends compared to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger later during his conference call with the Baltimore media.
Big Ben, you'll recall, missed the first meeting between these two teams at Heinz Field in October while serving a four-game suspension for generally being a lecherous creep towards women.
The Steelers were quarterbacked that day by Charlie Batch, who is old enough to qualify for Medicare. And the result was a 17-14 Ravens win after Joe Flacco hit T.J. Houshmandzadeh with an 18-yard touchdown pass with 32 seconds left.
Now on the phone with reporters, Big Ben sounded about as comfortable as a man being prepped for surgery.
He was about as forthcoming as one, too.
Question: How do you explain your 7-2 record against the Ravens?
Roethlisberger: "I have no idea. Luck?"
Question: Would you being out there the last time these two teams played have made a difference in the final score?
Roethlisberger: "Too hard to tell."
Question: Do you hate the Ravens?
Roethlisberger: "I don't hate anybody. That's a harsh word."
It was at this point that I turned off my tape recorder, put my notebook away and headed for the exit.
And I thought, where's Hines Ward when you really need him?
(Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM Sports.)