They are making a big mistake by allowing Hines Ward on the field at halftime tonight of the Steelers-Baltimore Ravens game. It's wonderful that the Steelers are honoring him as a part of their 80th anniversary celebration. He's one of their all-time greats. The problem is Ward might not leave peacefully after the ceremony. He might just run out on the Heinz Field lawn and pop Ravens safety Ed Reed.
For old time's sake, you know?
"It's probably a good thing I'll be in a suit and tie instead of a uniform," Ward said.
The game won't be the same without injured Steelers Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu and Antonio Brown and injured Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. But Ward will be missed the most. It just doesn't seem right that he'll be in the NBC broadcast booth instead of on the field after being pushed into retirement after last season by the Steelers. More than any player, he made the twice- or even thrice-yearly Steelers-Ravens hair-pull the best and most intense in the NFL.
What would you give to see Ward hit Reed or Terrell Suggs one more time?
"I had a checklist when we played 'em," Ward said. "Whenever I hit one, I'd check his name off. 'I got him ... I got him ... I got him.' "
The great Lewis?
"I finally got him," Ward said. "It was on a touchdown run by Dennis Dixon [in 2009]. I de-cleated him. I just ran off the field laughing the whole time. Coach [Mike] Tomlin showed the whole team at our meeting and everyone went crazy."
Suggs, the 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year?
"Got him, too," Ward said. "I cracked back on a toss-sweep and popped him pretty good. I helped him up. He just laughed and said, 'I should have known it was you. I should have known better. My bad.' "
The Hall of Fame-bound Reed?
"He and Troy were the marquee safeties in the league," Ward said. "I always wanted to whip his ass the whole game. I wanted to make a name for myself."
Ward said his greatest memory of the games against the Ravens was a hit on Reed in 2007. "I hit him so hard I felt his pain. I called their trainer right away. 'Come get your guy.' They had to carry him off."
"He didn't like me on or off the field," Ward said. "I hit him once and he threatened to kill me. He hated me the most."
Hall of Famer Rod Woodson?
"He was an all-everything Pittsburgh Steeler, but then he put on a Ravens uniform, so I went after him like anyone else. I had a genuine dislike for anyone in purple and back. I bloodied his nose. He didn't like it."
Woodson was so annoyed that he scuttled a proposed business deal for Ward to be a pitchman for his Pittsburgh automobile dealership. The two later kissed and made up, but Reed held a grudge against Ward. They wouldn't talk even at the Pro Bowl. "He'd ask me on the field, 'Why do you always play dirty?' " Ward said. "I'd tell him, 'You're not going to tackle me softly when I come across the middle, are you?' He put a dirty hit on me four or five years ago. I ran a slant route and he knocked the crap out of me. I was OK with it. You expect that. I just know I got him more than he got me."
Then, there was Scott, now a linebacker with the New York Jets. He still probably seethes at the mention of Ward's name.
"His time will come. He'll get his," Scott said before the Ravens played the Steelers in the AFC championship after the 2008 season. "He'll come across the middle one day and someone will hit him or take out his knee. He'll be gone. No one will care. No one will even care. No one will send him any cards saying they're sorry. Not to that guy."
Scott wasn't the only Baltimore player who wanted a shot at Ward. Suggs went on a national radio show in 2008 and said the Ravens had a bounty on him and Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall. "Hines Ward is definitely a dirty player, a cheap-shot artist," Suggs said.
Ward didn't mind the reputation. He thought it helped the Steelers. "If they have their head on a swivel and they're worrying about a little 200-pound guy like me, they're not worried about doing their job."
Ward said Lewis frequently told him that he hated him as an opponent but would have loved him as a teammate. "There was mutual respect there. Ray liked the way I played. I always had the mentality that I'm going to hit you before you hit me. I was always in the attack mode. Coach Tomlin told me I needed to set the tempo for us. I took pride in that. I brought the defensive side of the ball's mindset to the offense."
Even Suggs grew to give Ward grudging respect.
"We were in a restaurant in Vegas after we beat them in the AFC championship game [after the 2008 season] to go to the Super Bowl," Ward said. "We beat 'em three times that year. So Suggs walks all the way across the restaurant and says, 'I can't give you guys anything but props.' He was bowing down to me right in the middle of the restaurant."
Ward loved the attention. He loved being -- in his words -- "the most hated man in Baltimore." He loved playing for the most hated opponent in Baltimore.
"One moment that stands out was when our bus pulled up to their stadium and there were three generations of a family there waiting for us. There was the grandfather, his son and a little boy about 4. All three of 'em were giving us the finger. I just thought, 'Man, that's what the Steelers-Ravens game is all about.' "
Ward misses it. All of it.
"Of course I do. You want to be out there with the guys. You want to be out there competing, especially against those guys. There was no better feeling than beating Baltimore."
Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Someone should grab Ward at the end of halftime tonight. Just to be safe.roncook
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.