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Cook: Woodson-Ward a nasty subplot

Wednesday, January 16, 2002

The story begins sometime before the second Steelers-Baltimore Ravens game this season when Rod Woodson's people called Hines Ward's people to inquire about Ward being a pitchman for one of Woodson's Pittsburgh automobile dealerships.

"I'm all for it," Ward said at the time.

"We'll get back to you," Woodson's people said.

Ward still is waiting for the call.

He figures he will be waiting for a long time.

Such is the "hatred" -- Lee Flowers' word -- between the Steelers and Ravens, who will meet in the playoffs Sunday at Heinz Field.

"I can't believe he has allowed this to become so personal," Ward said of Woodson. "I always thought what happened on the football field stayed on the football field. To ruin a business relationship that would have benefited both of us doesn't make any sense."

Actually, it does.

There has been a lot of hot air blowing back and forth between the Steelers and Ravens all season. Flowers, Plaxico Burress and Jerome Bettis. Shannon Sharpe, Ray Lewis and Jamie Sharper of the Ravens. Even Bill Cowher and Ravens Coach Brian Billick, to a lesser degree. Most of it has been just that, harmless hot air that, as Cowher correctly noted yesterday, will mean absolutely nothing when the teams line up Sunday. But there appears to be real enmity between Woodson and Ward.

If there's a surprise to any of this, it's that Woodson's people even bothered to call Ward in the first place. In the first Steelers-Ravens game Nov. 4, Ward had delivered a big block on Woodson. "I got him good," Ward said. "His nose started bleeding. He never saw me coming."

After the Ravens won that game, 13-10, Woodson found Ward on the field and, according to Ward, told him, "I'll get you back the next time." He wasn't smiling when he said it.

Ward said he thought nothing of the threat until the morning of the second Steelers-Ravens game Dec. 16.

"Hank Poteat came to us at breakfast," Ward said. "His sister goes with one of the Ravens. She had told him there was a bounty out on Plex and me. The first one to knock one of us out of the game got the pot.

"Plex and I took it personally."

It was obvious.

Burress, who was derisively called "Plexiglass" before the game by the Ravens' Sharpe, embarrassed cornerback Chris McAlister, catching eight passes for 164 yards in the Steelers' 26-21 win. Ward, who was double-covered most of the game, had a season-low one catch for 7 yards, yet still managed to contribute with his blocking. The Steelers ran for 158 yards and possessed the ball for more than 41 minutes.

Ward also managed to annoy Woodson big time. On the Steelers' second play, he drew a personal foul penalty on Woodson. "He pushed me from behind, and I fell down," Ward said, grinning. "It was nothing. We just saw it on tape. We all laughed about it."

It was Woodson who laughed later when Ward was penalized 15 yards for taunting him after his one catch early in the fourth quarter. "I didn't even say anything to him. I just stood over him," Ward said. "They fined me $10,000 for that? At least let me get my money's worth."

Neither Ward nor Woodson was laughing after the game. Just like before, they met on the field. And just like before, it wasn't to congratulate each other or to say a prayer together, as you often see players do.

"He told me that never in his career was he involved in any kind of a bounty," Ward said. "He didn't say there wasn't one. He just said he wasn't involved in one.

"Then, he told me he didn't appreciate the way I played the game. He called me a dirty player. He didn't like the way I blocked him. I had cut him pretty good on a run by Amos [Zereoue]. He got up ticked off. He said I tried to hurt him."

And Ward's response?

" 'That's the way I play. All my blocks are clean. If you don't like it, tough.' "

Ward said he isn't sure what to expect from the Ravens' secondary Sunday.

"I had a lot of catches against them in the first game. Plex had his way with McAlister in the second game. Who knows? Maybe they'll try to double us both this time. If you ask me, they have a real match-up problem."

One thing Ward does know is he'll see plenty of Woodson.

"I'm fine with that. If they're worried about getting into a fight with our wide receivers, that's good. We're in their minds before the game even starts. They shouldn't be worried about us. They should be worried about Jerome running the ball down their throats."

It's probably a good idea to keep an eye on Ward and Woodson during and after the game.

Know this when you see them talking:

It won't be about selling cars.

Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com.

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