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Playing by the rules

The Baltimore Sun

"Keep your head on a swivel."

Anyone who has played football has had this term drilled into their brain thousands of times. It means, roughly translated, that as a defender, you never pursue a ball carrier without glancing in all directions first. Lock your gaze on the runner, and you're likely to get knocked on your butt by a wide receiver who isn't afraid of contact.

No one does this better than Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward, and it's one of the reasons he's one of my favorite football players. (Sorry, Baltimore.) The people who think he's a dirty player - as some suggested last week when Ward crushed Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers and broke his jaw - don't get it. Ward is, in fact, the exact opposite. It's not a cheap shot to hit a defender when he's not looking as long as you do it above the waist.

No one cries foul when defenders hold up a ball carrier so that the third or fourth man arriving on the scene can deliver a nasty lick. And no one raises a stink when defenseless receivers, usually left hanging out to dry by a rookie quarterback, are creamed.

Defenders don't like Ward because he never lets them relax, he's tough as nails and he's impossible to seek retribution against. Ward isn't out to hurt them. He does, however, strike fear in their hearts. And because it's so unusual - especially in this era where prima donnas such as Terrell Owens and Randy Moss reign supreme - it makes defenders furious. The NFL has hinted it's going to keep an eye on Ward, which is ridiculous.

I'd take Ward on my team in a second. And you should, too.

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