ATLANTA (AP) -- Former NFL fullback Craig "Ironhead" Heyward died Saturday after a 7 1/2 -year fight with a recurring brain tumor, his son's high school football coach said. He was 39.
Heyward spent 11 seasons in the NFL with New Orleans, Chicago, Atlanta, St. Louis and Indianapolis. The former University of Pittsburgh All-American rushed for a career-high 1,083 yards for the Falcons in 1995.
"I got a call at 4:30 or 5 that he had passed away," said Blair Armstrong, who coached Heyward's son, Cameron, at Peachtree Ridge High School. "He was in a hospice when he died, but I don't know which one."
Armstrong said he often talked to Heyward when he came to see his son play.
"He wasn't real mobile, but he'd been rehabbing. He thought he might walk again. But once he lost his hearing and his sight, his organs started shutting down. Other problems were just developing."
Born in Passaic, N.J., in 1966, the 5-foot-11 fullback ran for 4,301 yards in his NFL career and had 1,559 yards receiving.
Heyward was one of the biggest running backs in NCAA Division I-A history, with a weight estimated at 260 to 285 pounds, but finished third in Pitt career rushing with 3,086 yards. He trailed only Tony Dorsett (6,526 yards) and Curvin Richards' 3,192 yards. Heyward's 1,791 yards in 1987, counting a bowl game, rank second only to Dorsett's 2,150 yards in 1976 for a Pitt single season.
Heyward was a first-team AP All-America pick that season, but chose to pass up his senior season and was a first-round draft pick by New Orleans.
"Craig Heyward truly ranks among the all-time greats in Pitt football history," Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt said in a statement released with the school.
"I will always remember him as a tremendous player who had an irrepressible attitude on and off the field. The thoughts and prayers of the entire Pitt family are with Craig's loved ones during this time of sorrow."
Heyward's son, the 6-7, 280-pound Cameron, visited Pitt on a recruiting trip last month and is considered one of the nation's top defensive line recruits.
Tony Realli said it best at the end of yesterday's Pardon The Interruption.
"Eleven years in the league, one great Zest commercial."
I must have quoted that commercial so much when it was running. It honestly made me smile and it was obvious that Ironhead was having a lot of fun with it. I may not know much of his football career, but I liked Ironhead the man. He will be missed.
Once more for the road: "But Ironhead, what's with this thingy?"
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