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'Ironhead' gave Rams personality in bad times
By Jeff Gordon
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Columnist Jeff Gordon
Upon further review, running back Craig "Ironhead" Heyward is one of our all-time favorite St. Louis athletes. He didn't accomplish much for the Rams on the field, but his presence made a bleak era for this team so much more tolerable.
Heyward, who succumbed Saturday to a 7 1/2-year battle with brain tumors, managed to stand out in a sport full of boisterous personalities. He gained celebrity with his humorous television commercial for Zest.
Ironhead tried to persuade American men to use body wash with a small sponge. "But Ironhead," he said with a mock feminine voice, "what's with this thingy?"
Heyward did a greater public service by openly discussing his struggle to overcome an impoverished childhood and his battle with alcoholism.
He fought a losing battle with weight problems as a Ram, to the exasperation of coach Dick Vermeil. Before the 1998 training camp, the former 1,000-yard rusher was told to report at 260 pounds or don't come at all. Heyward didn't come, forcing the Rams to eventually let him go.
"You've got to sell a lot of Zest to make his kind of money," Vermeil observed during the standoff.
After he left the Rams, doctors discovered chordoma, a form of brain tumor. Heyward won his first struggle with the disease, although his NFL career ended.
"It turns out that I wasn't Ironhead for nothing," Heyward told the Post-Dispatch. "The stubborn and obstinate person that I became over the years has actually kind of given me the tools to let people know and beware of (certain things) because I've lived it and I've walked it. ... I know the consequences of it, I've actually been through it, so I'm not just speaking out of the side of my neck."
The cancer returned with a vengeance, surrounding his entire brain. Blind, paralyzed and partially deaf, he lived out his final days in a hospice.
Former quarterback Bobby Hebert remained close to Heyward until the end. He told CBS Sportsline about a recent conversation between Ironhead and University of Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannestedt, his old head coach with the Bears.
Wannestedt has been recruiting Heyward's son, Cameron. "He said, 'Coach, remember all that money you fined me back in '93? Well, you return that $200,000 and I'll send Cameron up there to play for you.' Can you imagine?" Hebert said. "Even as bad off as he was at the time, and this was just a few weeks ago, he was still sharp enough and funny enough to come up with that comeback to Wannstedt. I mean, that was vintage Ironhead, right?"
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