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The Ravens supposedly have a bounty on Steelers' Hines Ward
If Tim Tebow comes out early, he'd likely be a first-round QB
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So here we are. Week 15. The Hines Ward Bounty Bowl. Pittsburgh-Baltimore, in Baltimore, Sunday, with the lead of the AFC North at stake. A Pittsburgh win locks the division, giving the Steelers a two-game lead with two to play and a sweep of the season series. A Baltimore win ties the teams at 10-4, with Baltimore taking a slight edge based on better division record (5-1 versus 4-1).
The game doesn't need a subplot, but it has one: this ever-present alleged "bounty'' on Steelers receiver Hines Ward, which surfaced after the first Steelers-Ravens game of the year, presumably because of a hard but legal hit Ward made on Baltimore linebacker Bart Scott. "We've got something in store for him,'' Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs said on an Atlanta radio station, and he and the Ravens quickly had to backtrack from the remarks and claim there is no such thing as a bounty in football.
I'm sure all the right words will be spoken this week. But there is some very bad blood between Ward and the Ravens, dating back several years because Ward is such an aggressive downfield blocker. Some of those blocks, the Ravens think, have gone over the line. Ward, and those around him, will be so closely monitored in this game that I don't expect anything untoward to happen... but that doesn't mean this won't be a very chippy game.
"I've heard that the last five years, that they're supposed to have a bounty on me,'' Ward told me recently. "Jamal Lewis, when he was with the Ravens, told me once, 'There might be a bounty on you.' You want me to go out there and play any different from the way I normally play? I'm not going to do that. When I go across the middle, they're going to try to kill me. When I'm blocking downfield, I'm going to try to knock them down. That's football, and I'm not going to change anything.''
Ward is bemused by the charges that he's a dirty player. "To be called dirty ... I'm not dirty. If you're not looking at me when I'm about to engage you fairly, that's tough luck,'' he said.
Cincinnati linebacker Keith Rivers found that out. He was blindsided, legally, when he wasn't looking during the Week 7 Steelers' game at Cincinnati. The crushing block -- not penalized at the time nor by the league after looking at gametape of the play -- broke Rivers' jaw and knocked him out for the year.
"I hope I am in other players' head. Like, 'You're not breaking my jaw,'" Ward sad. "I play the game one way -- aggressive. I've been taught to block downfield. That's what I do. Never have I gone out there and tried to maliciously do anything to another player.''
TiVo alert on this game. I hope there aren't too many players lost to the brutality of it.
I want to take a moment to send my sympathy to Dan Marino and his family over the loss of his father, Daniel C. Marino Sr., who died Saturday at 71 after a lengthy illness. Dan, I know I am echoing everyone who has worked with you in your second life - -the TV one -- when I say: Your father and mother raised a heck of a man, and that is the best tribute of all when it comes to parents. My sincere condolences. I'll never forget my first year at HBO's "Inside the NFL'' show, when, at the end of the year, after the last show, I had to leave the wrap party early because my mother was seriously ill. Dan walked from across the room, gave me a big hug, and said, "Anything I can do to help, you just let me know.'' When you were on Dan's team, he was a terrific teammate. Good luck in dealing with everything, Dan.
And one final note before I start the mail: Mea culpa, mea culpa, meal culpa. I really had the Panthers read wrong. To run for 299 yards on a defense stopping the run better than the Giants and Titans ... just stunning. Carolina was as impressive Monday night as any team has been in any game in recent weeks. The vision of John Fox before the season -- running with power behind a bigger, stronger offensive line -- was in full view for America last night. Great, great job by the Panthers.
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