With the 2022 season coming to an end, here’s a look at the ten best wide receiver/defensive back rivalries in NFL history.
Just as iron sharpens iron, so wide receivers and defensive backs sharpen each other.
The original verse of the proverb is not specific to football, but the notion is the same. Mirroring each other, NFL wide receivers and defensive backs will always limit their opponents. Through this, some of the NFL’s fiercest rivalries are born.
Sometimes players struggle with their physical limitations, such as 5-foot-9 Pat Fischer when he is pitted against 6-foot-8 Harold Carmichael. Others view the sport with grace, considering it an honor to battle a Hall of Fame talent. That was the sentiment in Peanut Tillman’s heartfelt retirement speech to Calvin Johnson, to which Johnson responded positively.
Other rivalries are rooted in revenge, with players retaliating against perceived foul shots with clotheslines and snatch chains. Rival tensions with Ed Reed and Hines Ward may ease over time, while others remain bitter until the end.
Picking the top 10 receiver versus defensive rivalries is a subjective exercise for every fan of the sport, but the following list focuses on a few criteria. An attempt was made to include rivalries spanning decades, although there is a recent bias in favor of the 2010s. An effort was also made to incorporate a diversity of rivalries, from respectful divisional opponents to trash-talking players with an apparent disdain for each other.
There were plenty of worthwhile entries on this list that were left off, but in an effort to include a spectrum of football feuds, here are the 10 best rivalries between NFL wide receivers and defensive backs.
Top 10 receiver-defensive rivalries in NFL history:
Honorable Mention: Ed Reed v. Hines Ward
In the 2000s, the Pittsburgh Steelers were known for keeping football traditions alive, i.e., continuing to play a hard-hitting style that had been abolished by recent NFL rules. Defenders like Troy Polamalu embodied the historic strength of the Steelers, but so did wide receiver Hines Ward.
Ward is still considered one of the best blockers in the game at his position, but the players on the other end of those blocks don’t remember his skills fondly. Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed recalls Ward as a “dirty player” who negatively affected league rules with his playing style.
“I don’t have to tell you that Hines Ward was a dirty player,” Reed told The Dan Patrick Show via Steelers Depository. “There was a rule that bears his name. I’m not stressing over it, I’m not bitter about it, it is what it is. Even though he was dirty with me, I never answered him back. I never did as much as I could.”
Reid and Ward went back and forth at a time when the Steelers and Ravens were leading the AFC with their brutality, their individual battles representing a brutal battle between the divisions. Bart Scott joked with Ward after the catcher targeted Scott and Reed in 2007, saying that when the two teams met again, he would “find it.” [Ward] And make sure I take the most violent shots I can.” Although Reed v. Ward deserves a mention, it was still relatively quiet; as Reed said, it never rose to that.
If he had, another entry would have been taken off this list, as there is always room for the greatest free safety the Steelers can face off against a veteran.