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Boldin, Ward cut from the same cloth but with subtle differences

TAMPA, Fla. -- Let us review the ways that Arizona Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin and Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Hines Ward are similar.

Well, both stand more than 6 feet tall and weigh more than 200 pounds. Both use that size and bulk to play receiver more like a truck than a sedan. Tough, physical, fearless. Once the ball is caught, both are more like running backs than receivers. Both are dominating blockers, especially as receivers.

Both dabbled at quarterback in high school and in college.

Both play football not with a chip on their shoulders -- but with boulders. Sort of angry football. In a nice way.

Here is where Boldin and Ward differ.

Boldin turns 29 in October. Ward reaches 33 in March. Boldin is in his sixth NFL season. Ward is in his 11th.

Boldin can make sudden cuts at any spot and runs like a sprinter. Despite his physicality, if he gets past you, he is gone.

Ward is more crafty. He can sit in a zone, find that soft spot and make you pay. He is the perfect receiver for a giant, nimble quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger, who lengthens plays with his movement. Ward will set up a defensive back for a twist, a turn, a winning play. If six yards is required for a first down, Ward gets you six and a half, just in case. His mental edge is full and efficient.

Boldin and Ward.

Ward and Boldin.

Both have nursed injuries recently, Boldin a hamstring, Ward a knee.

Which team in Super Bowl XLIII has the better "physical" receiver? Depends on whom you ask. Here is the answer from each one.

Boldin: "We're both always trying to do something with the ball once we have it. We are trying to do something without it. I think we were both raised to just do what it takes to win a football game. He is a great veteran receiver who has a very good feel for how to get open in zone defenses. Me, my game is all about not allowing me get to the ball. Because once I get it, what might separate me from other receivers is I'm going to do everything I can with it."

Ward: "Some players put black under their eyes to handle glare. I do it because it's like war paint to me. I'm going into battle. I really don't like comparing myself to other receivers or, really, any other player. I try to let the work, the games speak for themselves. I have respect for him."

These are two football players wound tightly.

And those are the key words -- football players. Boldin and Ward do all the things (and more) that coaches look for from a receiver, from a football player. Neither cannot hide their intensity and hunger. Neither tries.

Boldin yapped at Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley during the NFC Championship Game simply because Boldin wanted to be on the field. Haley can live with that, a player so full of fire that he never wants out, especially during the game's most critical moments.

Haley also has a fondness for Ward.

"I was with the Jets when Hines Ward came out of college in '96," Haley said. "I did a lot of study on him. A great player. Proud. Proven. I interviewed him in the drafting process and really liked what I heard and saw. I still have that report. He's proven himself."

Ward seldom thinks like that. He is a Super Bowl Most Valuable Player but still thinks of himself in playing style as a free agent knocking on doors, even though he was a third-round draft pick by the Steelers 11 seasons ago. He still believes he has to prove them all wrong.

That's the boulder.

"I think I will always be that way because people have always taken their knocks at me -- I'm not good enough ... I'm a dirty player," Ward said. "I started on special teams. I have always thought I had to do more, be more. I'm not thinking at all about trying to win a second MVP in the Super Bowl. I'm thinking about winning the second ring in my career. Anything after that, I'd take it, but it's about the team, the ring."

We can expect Boldin and Ward to attempt a pass in Super Bowl XLIII. Both teams enjoy using these receivers on reverse passes. Both have the skill set for it.

These are two receivers cut from the same cloth. The final patterns might differ, but the fabric is quite similar.

"Me and Anquan have worked out together every summer for the last few years, and I've played with Hines this year," Pittsburgh backup quarterback Byron Leftwich said. "Anquan, when he came out in the draft, I said, 'This is going to be a Hall of Fame receiver.' I had never seen a rookie receiver catch the ball and run with the ball like did. Hines, he is well on his way to the Hall. So right there, these two guys in this game will be very special to see.

"I think Hines is the heart and soul of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Everything in this offense changes without him. Really, the whole team changes without him. These are two players with very broad shoulders. They're just great football players. And the thing I love about them -- they do all of the grimy stuff, and do it well."

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