ESPN.com 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).
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.