Good riddance: Crocker calls Ward 'a dirty player'

Under normal circumstances, Hines Ward's retirement would have been the story of the day on Tuesday. After all, as Gregg Rosenthal pointed out, Ward was just as engaging as he was on the field: laughter one minute, giving way to tears and poetic statements about the Steel City the next.

Ward's big moment was sucked into the tractor beam of the Peyton Manning/John Elway feel-good session in Denver, but for those in the AFC North who faced the scrappy receiver two times a year, it wasn't so much a goodbye -- but good riddance.

Bengals safety Chris Crocker, for one, won't miss Ward.

"He's probably the first receiver to make blocking such a big part of his game. He was an all-around receiver," Crocker told the team's official website.

"He was a dirty player, but he made a lot of plays. They used him perfectly to suit his abilities, and he was a big-time player for them. Some people might think of him as a borderline Hall of Famer, but I think the fact he helped them win two Super Bowls and all the things he did for that team make him deserving."

Crocker arrived in Cincy in 2008 on the heels of Ward's eyebrow-raising blindside block on Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers. Ward broke the rookie's jaw and ended his season. Burning bright on the Bengals' radar, Ward clashed directly in 2009 with Crocker, who claimed the receiver punched him in the face.

"Stuff like that, it's just not right," Crocker said. "And I'm not the only guy that thinks it."

Let's be clear about something: Nobody's mistaking Ward for a patron saint. He operated with intensity and rewrote the book on physical play from the wide receiver position. Are AFC North opponents raising their glasses this week? Yes, high in the air, but even Crocker can't look back on Ward's career without talking of the difference he made on the field.