Hall of Fame center Mike Webster, a member of the Steelers' 1970s dynasty team, died early Tuesday morning at the age of 50 following complications from a heart attack. With his son, Garrett, at his side, the great football hero known as "Iron Mike" passed quietly away following surgery at a Pittsburgh hospital.
Michael "Mike" Webster was born March 18, 1952, in Tomahawk, Wisconsin. Considered one of the greatest centers in professional football, Mike Webster's superlative 17-year career in the National Football League included nine Pro Bowls and four Super Bowl rings, an NFL record for an offensive lineman. He joined the Steelers as a part of the 1974 draft along with other future Pittsburgh Steelers stars Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Lynn Swann. Not coincidentally, that year also marked the first of four Super Bowl wins for the team that came to be called the "Steel Dynasty." Mike Webster was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1997, during his second year of eligibility, and was voted to the NFL's all-time team in 2000.
From his rookie year in 1974, through 1985, Mike Webster played in 177 consecutive games, not letting anything keep him from playing for his team. He was best known for his toughness, endurance, and great work ethic, lending further credence to that belief by winning the NFL's Strongman Competition during the 1980 off-season. He was a strong role model and leader for his team, playing in 19 playoff games with the Steelers and serving as offensive captain for nine seasons.
Unfortunately, retirement did not treat Mike Webster as well as his football career. In 1999, the lineman was diagnosed with brain damage caused by repeated head injuries sustained during his time in the NFL. Multiple concussions had damaged his frontal lobe, and the effects of the injuries grew worse in recent years. The rest of his life, unfortunately, deteriorated along with his health, leaving him unemployed, debt-ridden, and occasionally homeless. He also suffered a brief brush with the law when he was charged with forging prescriptions for the drug Ritalin, and he accepted five years probation.
"He went through a lot of tough years, but he never complained about anything," former Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw said Tuesday. "In the last 10 days we've lost Johnny Unitas, Bob Hayes, and now Mike. These men were a huge part of the NFL family. They were such great players."
"Mike was one of the main reasons we won four Super Bowls," said former Steelers running back Franco Harris. "Unfortunately, he had some turmoil and misfortune after his football career. He is now at peace. We do miss and love Mike."
At his 1997 Hall of Fame induction, Hall of Fame quarterback and fellow Steelers teammate Terry Bradshaw summed up Mike Webster in a few moving words. "There never has been and never will be another man as committed and totally dedicated to making himself the very best he could possibly be."
Mike Webster is survived by two sons, Garrett, 17, who wears his father's No. 52 for the Moon High School football team, and Colin, 23, a corporal in the U.S. Marines, and two daughters, Brooke, 25, and Hillary Webster, 15, of Madison, Wisconsin.