Talk of Fame Network
There is almost no one who epitomized the ferocity, the competition and the talent that makes the Baltimore-Pittsburgh rivalry the gold standard of the NFL than Hall-of-Fame semifinalist Hines Ward.
The former Steelers' wide receiver was a sure pass catcher. He was a big-play maker. He was a three-time All-Pro, a five-time Pro Bowler and a Super Bowl MVP. And he was the best blocker at his position – so good that Hall-of-Fame candidate Alan Faneca two weeks ago told the Talk of Fame Network that Ward changed the wide-receiver position with his physical play.
Ward does not disagree. But it wasn't easy, and he owes it, he said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast, to that Ravens-Steelers series.
"That rivalry," he said, "with so many great players, so many future Hall-of-Famers … to be a part of that, man, that rivalry made me who I was; it taught me everything … to bring your 'A Game' each and every play.
"You know it's going to be a combative game, and I figure, 'Hey, everybody's considering Ed Reed is going to be a Hall-of-Famer, one of the best safeties in the league. Well, before that game is over, he's going to know who No. 86 is.' I gave him nightmares. Every time … and I took pride in that."
Ward is one of 26 semfinalists for the Hall's Class of 2017, with the 15 finalists announced Tuesday, Jan. 3, and the competition at his position is tight. Ward is one of four wide receivers, with Terrell Owens, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt the others.
But Ward was the most complete of those players, someone who not only made big catches but made big blocks – sometimes catching opponents from the blind side with thunderous hits.
"I don’t get incentives to block," he said. "I don’t get incentives to block the way I did. I don’t get paid extra money. I did it because I wanted to. I wanted to see what way I could impact the game when I don’t get the ball … I was an extra pulling guard for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and I took great pride in doing that."
So much so that he recalled Hall-of-Fame coach Bill Parcells once coming up to him, telling him that he played the game "the way it is supposed to be played." Ward liked that, and he believes Hall-of-Fame voters should know that about him. Because while he may not have the receiving numbers of Owens, Bruce and Holt, nobody at his position was better when it came to setting up blocks – with the league later passing "The Hines Ward Rule" to address crack-back blocks.
"Not too many guys can change the rules," he said. "I would say my blocking stands out more than anything. No disrespect to the other guys, but, for me, they're just catching passes and (scoring) touchdowns. And I did the same … maybe not as statistically as those guys. But I took pride in blocking."
(Hines Ward photos courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers)