Say goodnight to the Bad Guy
“You need people like me so you can point your $%^& fingers and say, ‘That’s the bad guy’…So say goodnight to the bad guy!” --- Tony Montana (Al Pacino) in “Scarface”
The world of the NFL is a cruel one indeed. With no guaranteed contracts, players are thrown overboard when their skills start to decline or their contract becomes too big; nothing more than a piece of meat, even after you've given your heart and soul to a franchise.
I find it sad to see great veterans go out in such shabby fashion, hell, my Baltimore Ravens did the deed last year to Derrick Mason and Todd Heap, guys who had been warriors for years. In Hines Ward’s case though, I'll make an exception.
In case you missed it, Ward will be getting cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers after 14 seasons due to salary cap constraints. As a fan of the Steelers biggest rival, seeing Ward get released after a season in which he found himself demoted to the fifth string makes me do my best Dr. Evil laugh. The fact that the Ravens finally got their shots in on him this year is icing on the cake.
And yet, part of me, and I’m sure every Ravens fan, is gonna miss having Hines Ward around. For Ravens fans, the Steelers are evil; they’re everything we despise in life. They’re oil or insurance companies, a behemoth dedicated to not only winning, but making sure others fail, no matter the method. We Ravens fans want what the Steelers have and know we have to go through them to get it.
If the Steelers are like big oil companies, Ward was like the Koch Brothers, a smiling, cheap-shotting, towel-waving embodiment of everything dastardly the enterprise represents. No doubt, Ward was a hell of a receiver, a self-made, borderline Hall-of-Fame player who worked his butt off to get open, made tough catches, played well in big games and was never afraid to get dirty.
That last part is what endeared him to Steeler fans and made him so loathsome to Ravens fans. Ward was the master of the crackback, blind side block. As a defender was chasing the ballcarrier, Ward would creep in from the side and, when the defender wasn’t looking, blast him into next week. He’d gotten many a Ravens player this way, most notably Bart Scott in 2007 and Ed Reed in 2008. But the league cracked down on these sort of blocks when Ward went too far and broke the jaw of Cincinnati’s Keith Rivers.
Ward was never really the same after that as first Santonio Holmes, and then Mike Wallace became the Steelers' top receivers. By the end of the 2011 season, Ward was tethered to the bench as Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery gradually took his production.
Of course, you can’t talk about Ward without talking about that smile. He’d always be smiling, and as a Ravens fan, I couldn’t wait to see my team knock it off him. I think of Ward’s smile as the sort of smile bank robbers had back in the Old West: mischievous, devilish, clearly up to something and smugly assured he was going to get away with it. If your kid smiled like Ward, you’d wonder, “What did he do?”
When you combine the smile with the cheap shots, it made Ward the uber-villain of the Ravens-Steelers rivalry. His signature villain moment was in 2008's first meeting between the two teams, on Monday Night Football in Pittsburgh.Cameras caught Ward do his signature blindside hit on Reed about 20 yards away from the play, after the whistle and then jump up, smiling of course, and start skipping five yards down the field, acting like he was some sort of tough guy.
I didn’t think I could despise a Steeler player more than Joey Porter, but Ward vaulted to number one on the list with that one. As loathsome a player as Porter was – most Ravens fans seem to have forgotten that he was the number one Steeler villain for the first half of the 2000s – he at least never skipped around, smiling after one of his cheap shots.
Porter was actually more of a villain for his mouth than his deeds on the field, with the exception of when he shoved an obviously injured Heap to the ground in 2004. Ward took Porter's crown with his actions on the field: besides the smiling and the cheap shots, he also produced. We wanted the Ravens to get Ward, not just because we hated him, but because it would take out the Steelers biggest receiving threat.
The good news is, the Ravens finally did get their licks in on Ward this year. We finally got the best of that bastard just before he’s set to ride off into the sunset. From Jarret Johnson’s tremendous hit on Ward in Week 1, to Ward living up to his “Wines Hard” moniker after the game when the Ravens were big meanies and kept trying to score on the Steelers, to finally Ray Lewis KOing Ward in the Week 9 rematch.
Now, the Steelers will release Ward to save salary cap room, and while he’s vowed to play on, it seems likely that he will soon hang up the cleats and go into the broadcasting world. And we, the Ravens fans will be poorer for it. Say goodbye to the bad guy.
The only way the schadenfreude of the Ward story gets any better for Ravens fans is under the following scenario: Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome, sensing the need to once again bring in a veteran receiver for the 3rd wideout slot, misses out on Reggie Wayne and other targets and settles on an eager-for-a-job Ward.
For the home opener, the Ravens decide to let the offense be introduced first. Ward is picked to come out last. He comes out doing his smiling and skipping routine, happy to be in purple and black, after so many years as the enemy. And the capacity crowd at M&T Bank Stadium…showers him with boos.