Defensive backs all over the NFL hate Hines Ward (voted the dirtiest player in the NFL last year) because he’s not afraid to do what every defensive back would do to him (or any other receiver) if given the chance: knock the snot out of somebody on the football field.
Ward is the classic love him when ya got him, hate him when you don’t player. The Steelers have him, and Steelers fans (and players, I imagine) love him. Fans and players in the 31 other NFL cities? Not so much.
The Tennessee Titans have their own guy like that, and it just so happens that he’s probably going to be matched up with No. 86 quite a bit on Sunday: cornerback Cortland Finnegan, a tenacious, in-your-face, brutally physical player that is, essentially, what Hines Ward would be if he were a defensive back.
On Thursday, Terry McCormick at the Titans Insider had some comments from the two players, including Finnegan’s desire to unseat Ward as the “dirtiest” player in the league (Finnegan is currently sixth, so it’s not like he has a lot of ground to gain).
First, Ward laid on the praise of Finnegan, saying, “I love everything about Cortland, his little tenacious defense. He is always going after guys in run block or passing and whatever. I remember the one game we played down there, I scored a touchdown and he laid a pretty good hit on me. He is a little feisty guy.”
“It’s a compliment. That’s absolutely a compliment,” Finnegan said. “He was voted the league’s dirtiest player, so you’ve got to give it up for him. For someone to say something as nice as that, I appreciate it. I’m number [six] right now, but I’m aspiring to one day hopefully be No. 1. So, I appreciate it.”
This matchup won’t be for the weak, and if you can’t get yourself interested in this one, you probably don’t like football.
When Joey Porter played for the Steelers, he used to spend his pregame warmups pacing around the 50-yard line looking for what he called his “huckleberry.” A player he would pretty much torture for 60 minutes with an endless onslaught of physical play and verbal abuse, and genuinely hate for no other reason than it was somebody that played for the other team. Hey, whatever motivates you.
One Sunday in Cleveland he took this routine so far that he actually ended up getting ejected before the game even started. It helped lead to what is now known as “They Joey Porter rule.” (His replacement that day was a former training camp castoff named James Harrison, that recorded his first career sack in his first NFL start. The rest, as they say, is history.)
Anyway, the point is, if you’re looking for a player on the Titans to build up the appropriate level of dislike for prior to kickoff on Sunday (your huckleberry, if you will) Finnegan might just be the guy. It was easy for last year’s game because everybody was still fired up over Lendale White and Keith Bulluck stomping on the Terrible Towel. Neither guy is with the Titans this season.