Rule bearing name amuses Steelers' Ward
By Scott Brown, TRIBUNE-REVIEW
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Scott Brown is the Steelers beat writer. He can be reached via e-mail. Also check out Brown's blog and Steelers Q&A.
Ask Hines Ward about the so-called "Hines Ward" rule, and the Steelers' wide receiver chuckles.
"It's a big honor, because it's kind of weird how you can make an impact on the game," Ward said. "At the same time, I'm not going to change my game based off a rule, because coach (Mike) Tomlin said just keep continuing playing the way you are. I'm going to continue being the fierce wideout going out there and blocking guys and continue to make plays."
The NFL is trying to eliminate the kind of blocks that have become Ward signatures and made him a YouTube sensation. In March, the league adopted a rule change that makes it illegal for a blocker to use his helmet, forearm or shoulder to hit a defender from behind or from the side.
The Steelers were the only team to vote against the new rule. Team president Art Rooney II has said the Steelers opposed the change because it is a judgment call and places added responsibilities on referees.
Ward looks at the new rule with amusement. Or is that bemusement?
Ward, after all, can't wonder if there is a double standard at work with a rule that was passed in the interest of player safety.
"It's kind of funny because week in and week out, that's all we see is highlights of somebody getting blown up by a defensive player," Ward said. "In my case it's shunned or doesn't look good or makes me a dirty player. I don't do anything different than what they do to offensive players."
When asked if he thinks the league targeted him with the new rule, Ward said, "How many (other) wideouts do you know going out there and attacking defensive guys like defensive guys attack the offensive guys?"
Ward's attacking style ended the season of Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers last October.
He made a crack-back block while Rivers was in pursuit of Steelers tight end Matt Spaeth. The jarring hit broke Rivers' jaw, and the Bengals later placed Rivers on injured reserve.
Ward's downfield blocking has drawn the ire of opposing players, most notably former Ravens linebacker Bart Scott.
Ward wiped out Scott with a blindside block in November 2007. After the game Scott, who now plays for the New York Jets, threatened Ward.
"Defensive players, they hate it," Ward said of his playing style. "I don't know why they hate it, because when I go across the middle they can't wait to take my head off, so why should I wait my turn to get hit before I retaliate?
"I take the approach of I'm doing whatever it takes to win. If I get a shot on you, I'm going to take it just like if they get a shot on me they're going to take it. I understand you have to protect players and all of that, and I don't approach the game to try to hurt people. That's never been my style."
Ward, who recently signed a five-year contract with the Steelers, reiterated that he won't change how he plays the game. His aggressiveness as a blocker has long epitomized the Steelers' hard-nosed, blue-collar brand of football.
"He embodies what's important to us as far as how he approaches the game," Tomlin said. "He's a football player first and a wide receiver second."