By Jeff Gordon
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
05/29/2006
Jeff Gordon
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?"

TRENDING UP Mark Mulder's earned-run average, Jake Peavy's appreciation for Albert Pujols, Anthony Reyes, Sidney Ponson, Juan Encarnacion, Sam Hornish Jr., Detroit Tigers, Edmonton Oilers, Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O'Neal, Tony Womack, David Hasselhoff's prominence as an unofficial Mavericks mascot, Pat Robertson's NFL draft stock.

TRENDING DOWN Chris Carpenter's shoulder, Jim Edmonds' groin muscle, Houston Astros, Chicago Cubs, the Allard Baird Regime with the Royals, the national focus on Barry Bonds - now that he has FINALLY hit homer No, 715.

CURIOUS OFFER OF WEEK According to Newsday, a sportswriter and a television staffer seemed ready to skirmish Thursday night in the Mets clubhouse. So fully undressed pitcher Pedro Martinez reached into his locker, fished out his boxing gloves and threw them to the floor.

"I'll be the referee and I'll be naked," he proclaimed to the amusement of teammates.

ATHLETE OF WEEK Patrick Bertoletti, a culinary student from Chicago, won the GoldenPalace.net World Ice Cream Eating Championship by gagging down 1.75 gallons of the vanilla treat in eight minutes. For that, he earned $2,000.

"Ice cream is clearly one of the most difficult disciplines on the circuit because of the 'brain freeze' factor," said International Federation of Competitive Eating president Richard Shea. "However, most of these eaters are immune to the cold, and fresh-turned ice cream with pure ingredients is the fastest ice cream available."