Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward is putting together a potential Hall of Fame career. His 747 receptions, 70 touchdowns, more than 9,100 receiving yards - and counting - plus a Super Bowl ring are the kind of credentials that can earn a guy a gold jacket on a summer day in Canton.
And when the historians reflect on Ward's legacy, the first thing to be said of him is that he was one of the most physical players at his position.
However, there is an asterisk next to Ward's physicality.
Sometimes that hard-hitting play is egregiously outside the rules; his fistful of NFL-levied fines (two already this season) attest to that. And too often, even when his hits are legal, his prey is unsuspecting and, consequently, dangerously vulnerable. Sometimes, those shots are far from the point of attack.
If you don't think that's Ward's MO, consider his own words during a Pittsburgh radio show yesterday. He was talking about the Ravens, and they were reputedly out to get him.
"If I'm on the opposite side of the field, I'm going to try to protect myself and try to whup a guy's tail the whole game," he said. "When the whistle blows, it doesn't matter where you are on the field, it's football."
And as far as hitting guys whose attention is elsewhere, he said mockingly, during the same interview, "Hey, look at me, let me hit you."
There's an argument that goes (as Ward said himself): It's football.
Unfortunately, the cruel reality of pro football is that players' joints are routinely wrenched into permanent distortion and their heads concussed into a foggy future. With all that already at risk, Ward's occasionally gratuitous physical play - more commonly called cheap shots - is unnecessary and a blemish on an otherwise stellar career.