A recurring tumor claims his life:
ATLANTA — Former NFL fullback Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, who played 11 seasons in the league with five different franchises, died here Saturday after a seven-year battle with a recurring brain tumor.Heyward, who retired from the league following the 1998 season, was 39.
Given the severity and aggressiveness of Heyward's tumor, known as a chordoma, and the inability of surgeons to completely remove it during two operations, his death was not unexpected. Heyward also suffered a stroke a few years ago that left him partially paralyzed.
I don't remember any plays he made, not to say he didn't make any plays. No one at any position lasts eleven years in the NFL without making plays:
In 149 games, Heyward registered 1,031 carries for 4,301 yards and 30 touchdowns. He also posted 177 receptions for 1,559 yards and four touchdowns. His finest season came with the Falcons in 1995, when he rushed for 1,083 yards and six touchdowns and earned his lone Pro Bowl berth.
Rather, I remember him for that all-world nickname.
I also fondly remember his Zest commercials in the 90s. I can't look at product with the 'Zest' brand name without saying in a falsetto voice, "Hey Ironhead, it says it's a body wash!" or a mesh washcloth: "Hey Ironhead, what's this thingy?" He made people laugh all the way to the end, confirmed by Bobby Hebert, one of his NFL teammates:
The one thing he's still got and that hasn't changed a bit is that devilish sense of humor of his.
University of Pittsburgh had coach Dave Wannstedt get the last quote:
I will always remember him as a tremendous player who had an irrepressible attitude on and off the field. We spoke just a few weeks ago and I was struck by the typical upbeat 'Ironhead' attitude he displayed despite his health. The thoughts and prayers of the entire Pitt family are with Craig's loved ones during this time of sorrow.
This is also a bit scary for me, since Heyward was younger than I am. Just shows that you can never count on having a long life; sometimes a life is cut way too short.
Update: ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli writes a fitting tribute: Ironhead was a nickname, Craig was the man.