One of my first memories as a child involved my younger brother. No, this was not my first memory, but probably the one that comes to mind first, and, if you believe such things, proves that there is, indeed, a rivalry among siblings embedded somewhere in the human DNA.
I was no more than three, maybe four years old at the time. We lived in our old house, and my parents were in the living room watching TV. I was in the dining room, playing with Legos or Lincoln Logs or racing Matchbox cars along the floor, and my brother, Jeremy, was crawling around, drooling, or sucking his pacifier. I got bored with whatever I was doing and pulled out my crayons and a coloring book and began to color.
I had gotten in trouble earlier in the week for drawing on the walls with crayon. In order to fully understand the severity of the crime, you need to get a picture of my dad. At the time, he was in his prime: a weight lifter of epic statue, with rules tighter than the fit of his t-shirts and a very short temper.
When he found out I had drawn on the wall, it was over. I may as well have gone outside and ran the neighbor over with a bus; the punishment for that would have been far less severe.
Perhaps I wanted to see my brother suffer the same punishment I had been put through, maybe I was sadistic, maybe I was a bad kid. Who knows? But I grabbed my black crayon, and I scribbled all over the lower part of the wall. Turning, I picked up my brother, set him down in front of the crime scene, and shoved the crayon into his stubby little fingers.
Then I ran straight into the living room screaming bloody murder, informing my parents how Jeremy wrote on the wall in crayon, and I tried to stop him, but 50 strangers tried to stop me, and after I fought them off, I went to try and save the wall, but to no avail.
My parents strode into the living room, picked my brother up, who had fallen asleep, crayon in hand, and took him upstairs to bed...All without yelling at him! I was infuriated! How dare the tables be turned on me! When I thought I had the upper hand, had complete and total power over my adversary, the roles were reversed, and I could do nothing to stop it.
For the next few weeks, I kept my head on a swivel, not only because I feared my parents would discover my lie, but also because I was mortified my infant brother would get me back.
17 years later, I watched the Hines Ward block on Keith Rivers (and the uproar afterward) and laughed. Not only because Hines is my favorite player on my favorite team, or because he had done this multiple times before, but because it was the same situation I went through 17 years prior.
My little brother is Hines Ward, and I am the defenders of the National Football League. The tables have been turned, and now that the hunters have become the hunted; corners, safeties, and linebackers everywhere are scared. Defenders lining up against 86 in black 'n' gold must keep their eyes open at all times, because Hines will strike when you least expect it.
He's like a bad dream.
He's like the bogey-man.
He's worse! He's a wide receiver who blocks! Absurd, receivers don't do that! They prance around and have cute little celebrations when they score and awful temper tantrums when they don't. They have to change their Huggies when they run a route inside the hashmarks and may as well be invisible on running plays.
Some argue Hines is a dirty player, but most agree he's a throwback, a player from the early years, the "good ol' days," when men were men and football was football, not, as Troy Polamalu so perfectly put it, a "pansy game."
Coach Mike Tomlin says, "Hines plays the game the way it was meant to be played." Ex-Baltimore Ravens coach Bill Billick, heated rivals to the Pittsburgh Steelers, had this to say about Ward: "He's a SOB, but I'd love have him on my team any time."
Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fischer pulled Ward aside before the 2002 Pro Bowl (Fischer coached the AFC Squad, of which Ward was a member) and told him "there's always a spot open for you in Tennessee." Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Johnson, whose team has fallen victim to devastating blocks by Ward on numerous occasions, was quoted as saying, "Hines has always been one of the better blockers in the NFL. I don't get where you get unnecessary roughness from. That's not even a rule."
Johnson was quoted as saying that before Hines destroyed the season and jaw of Johnson's teammate Keith Rivers, but still, you get the picture. To those who are unsure, I refer you to his bodies of work: Ed Reed twice, Bart Scott, Keith Rivers, Darren Holly, Rod Woodson, Chris McAllister, and more, no doubt.
Go to YouTube, type in Hines Ward, and watch the clips again. Some will never back down in their belief of cheap-shots and dirty play, some laugh at the irony of defensive players upset over "unnecessary roughness," and it's possible some just don't care.
No matter how you slice it, what your view is, or if you happen to be Steeler, Bengal, Brown, or Raven fan, you can't deny it: Hines is one tough SOB, who hits back, cleanly, at those who try to take his head off.
I only have two regrets about watching Hines Ward play: First, people will never fully appreciate what he does best (hint: it's not catching passes), and second, I will never get to see him go against Ronnie Lott or Jack Tatum. Those matchups would be worth every penny of pay-per-view.
Every Sunday, I sit down to watch the Steelers, and whenever Hines Ward blindside blocks someone into oblivion, I jump up and down, laughing and hooting and hollering hysterically. Not because someone got the wind knocked out of them (or, in the case of Keith Rivers, unfortunately worse), but because there is someone in this world who does his job the right way, regardless of what people think of him.
Because there is someone who plays the game of football—real football—the way it's supposed to be played (and has a damn fun time doing it, too).
And, most of all, because, for once, the tables have been turned, and those who thought themselves superior now have to keep their head on a swivel...or else.