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Steelers Hines Ward & James Harrison make the ESPN “Any Era” team

Surfing around twitter tonight I came across a tweet from Hines where he talks about making the list of the top 20 players players for any era according to ESPN: Here is the writeup on Hines (#8) and also James Harrison who also made the list (#10) is unveiling its “Any Era” team this week which features 20 current players with the toughness to play in any period of NFL history. The team was assembled by votes from 20 Hall of Fame players (here’s a full explanation of the project).

Hines Ward: 

Coming in at No. 8 on the Any Era Team is Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward. Is there really any other wide receiver that would define “Any Era” more than Ward? You can love him or hate him, but you don’t ever want to be a defensive back on a running play with him on the field. ESPN’s John Clayton put it best when he called Ward a “ruthless blocker” and “a tough player who just happens to catch the football.”

When I asked Ward recently about his toughest moment, he immediately talked about his third season when he knocked helmets with Chargers safety Rodney Harrison. “I put the best and hardest hit on this guy. I thought I crushed him,” Ward said. “He looks back, shakes his head and says, ‘Yeah, 86, that’s what I’m talking about. I like that.’ I looked from the huddle, and thought, ‘Oh, no.’ That will always stick with me for the rest of my life.”

Here are explanations from three Hall of Fame players on why Ward made the cut:

LYNN SWANN: “Is there another receiver in the past 12 years who has a tougher reputation than Hines? If we are talking about being tough, then I don’t know how you can’t choose him. I’d like to go out of the box, but Hines fits this category too well. There are some very talented receivers in this league, and they’ll catch the ball and then get out of bounds. It might not always be the best decision, but whenever he catches the ball he turns and fights for every yard. He takes guys on, he’ll block and I mean really block.”

LARRY CSONKA: “I like Hines Ward for his size and toughness and flat-ass orneriness. He has the temperament to play anywhere, any time. He makes big catches, big blocks and has the disposition that would allow him to play in any era. He doesn’t bother with the trivial stuff. He plays to win and he knows, most of the time, he will.”

JOHN RANDLE: “The thing about Hines is he would crack you in a second. You had to have your head on a swivel. You’d watch a game just to see who Hines would crack on. He’d try to line up at tight end, and you knew if there was going to be a crack, it was Hines crackin’ somebody. And then afterward, he’d have that grin on his face. Because it was on you; he’d say, ‘Hey, stop me.’ That was his reputation for me. As a football player, I look at it like the Western days, being an outlaw and you’d go from town to town to defend your reputation. And they knew you were coming. For Hines, there was that smile on his face, and you’d see it on tape, ‘Hey, I got ya.'”

Ward is the fourth AFC North player to make the list, but there are more division players in the top 4. The AFC North blog will post every time a division player makes the Any Era Team.


James Harrison: 


MARCUS ALLEN: A guy I think could play in the years past, old school, is James Harrison. He gets reprimanded playing the game I grew up wanting to play like and admired and so forth. They are called dirty players and, unfortunately, the game has changed a bit. The league has made quite a bit of money off the hits we see in highlights, and there is generation of kids who grew up watching and were taught that’s the way you play.


MIKE SINGLETARY: I picked him because of his mentality. He’s been cut so many times and yet he kept coming back. He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but when he lines up, he plays, and he plays every down and that’s what you’ve gotta have on defense, so that’s why he’s there. Simply, it’s because of his mindset — greatness to me is all about what you overcome, and he’s been tremendous.

LYNN SWANN: James will take on two blockers at a time, he’ll stop them and then stop a guy for a loss, and that fires up a team. With these guys, every game you are looking for a hit or a major stop or a picked-off pass. With Harrison, you don’t know if the contribution will be a sack, a hit for a loss, a big stop for a loss on fourth down or dropping back in coverage to pick off a pass.

JERRY RICE: I picked James Harrison not because of all the fines, but because the guy is a bruiser on that defensive line and in that secondary. He’s going to hit you no matter what the consequences are. He plays the game the way it should be played, and that’s physically.


Harrison missed some time this season after he fractured his right eye socket. But the Steelers linebacker said that was nothing compared to what he endured last season. Harrison played with a back injury and needed two surgeries to repair a herniated disc this past offseason. He still led the Steelers with 10.5 sacks, forced six fumbles and was named to his fourth straight Pro Bowl.

Playing football last season was the toughest thing I ever had to do. Every week it hurt to play. I was in a lot of pain. But I didn’t want to let my teammates down. It was tough mentally, too. Knowing I was injured was hard to deal with. But I played as hard as I could every game.


His fierce tacking style would have worked in the 1960s and 1970s. Harrison would have been a perfect defender for the Raiders-Steelers clashes. He reminds me of a much more fluid Charles Haley, the star for the Cowboys and Niners in late ’80s and ’90s.

CLAYTON ON HALL OF FAME CHANCES: Despite being one of the top defenders for a few years, he would need more years of play at a high level to merit consideration.

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