Mike Webster

(1952 - 2002)

A photo of Mike Webster
Mike Webster
1952 - 2002
Born
March 18, 1952
Wisconsin United States
Death
September 24, 2002
Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania United States
Other Names
Michael Lewis Webster, Iron Mike
Summary
Mike Webster was born on March 18, 1952 in Wisconsin. He died on September 24, 2002 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at age 50.
Updated: September 06, 2019
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Mike Webster, Steelers Hall of Fame center, dies at 50
Wednesday, September 25, 2002
By Ed Bouchette, Post-Gazette Sports Writer
The news of Mike Webster's death hit Terry Bradshaw yesterday like one of his snaps – hard and fast.
The Hall of Fame quarterback, who presented Mr. Webster on the steps of Canton for the induction of the Steelers' center in 1997, last talked to his former teammate more than a year ago.
"You knew he had problems," Bradshaw said from his Dallas home. "Dying was not something I had in mind."
Mr. Webster, 50, whose toughness earned him the nickname "Iron Mike," died early yesterday morning in Allegheny General Hospital after a heart attack. His son, Garrett, said his father woke up Sunday morning feeling ill and felt sick off and on all day. He was taken to Sewickley Valley Hospital Sunday night, then transferred to AGH, where doctors told his son he had suffered a heart attack. He died after surgery.
"Basically, from what I was told by the doctors, half of his heart was dead," Garrett said. "He went quietly. It was like he just went to sleep."
Although Mr. Webster's health had deteriorated in recent years, his son said the former NFL star had had no previous heart problems. He was diagnosed with brain damage in 1999 from what doctors said were too many hits to the head playing football. Mr. Webster, separated from his family and homeless for a time after his retirement from football, also was put on probation in 1999 after he pleaded no contest to forging prescriptions for the drug Ritalin.
"It's not the natural order," said Chuck Noll, Webster's Hall of Fame coach with the Steelers. "It's like losing a son or daughter. It's not supposed to be that way."
"He was a great person and friend," said Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris. "Unfortunately, he had some turmoil and misfortune after his football career. He is now at peace."
Mr. Webster, born March 18, 1952, in Tomahawk, Wis., earned four Super Bowl rings and played in nine Pro Bowls during a 17-year career and was voted to the NFL's all-time team in 2000. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1997, his second year of eligibility. He played in more games, 220, than any other player in Steelers history.
"Mike was a symbol for our team," said Hall of Fame defensive tackle Joe Greene. "When you saw that Pittsburgh offense, he was the first one you saw running up to the line, fists pumping. They knew what they had to deal with right off with Mike."
The Steelers drafted him on the fifth round in 1974, one of four future Hall of Famers in that class, the most by any team in NFL history. At 6 feet 2, he came out of the University of Wisconsin weighing 225 pounds and eventually grew to 260, anchoring an undersized offensive line that paved the way for Harris and provided the protection for Bradshaw and his two Hall of Fame receivers, Lynn Swann and John Stallworth.
"He helped Terry Bradshaw very much," said Dan Rooney, also a Hall of Fame member. "Mike knew every player's position on both teams. He would talk to Terry after a play and say where the line splits were and where the defense was and what running plays would work particularly well."
Mr. Webster's devotion to the game and his training routine were legendary. He split time at center with Ray Mansfield his first two seasons. He started the final game of 1975, the first of a string of 150 consecutive starts. It ended in 1986, when he missed the first four games of the season with a dislocated elbow injured in the preseason. They were the only games he missed in his first 16 seasons. He played in a team-record 15 seasons with the Steelers, retired to accept a coaching job with the Kansas City Chiefs, then unretired six weeks later to become the Chiefs' starting center in 1989. He played one more season before retiring for good.
Mr. Webster not only played most games, he played most snaps, even in practice. He ran out of the tunnel into Three Rivers Stadium without ever wearing a long-sleeve shirt, displaying his bare muscular arms in his short-sleeve No. 52 Steelers jersey.
"He would come in two hours before we had to be here and start lifting weights," said former Steelers tackle Tunch Ilkin, one of his closer friends from their playing days. "He'd come back form his seventh Pro Bowl in a row and he'd be running the steps at Three Rivers Stadium the first week back. His focus, his toughness. They said he didn't miss a game in 10 years; I don't think he missed a play in 10 years."
Said former tackle Larry Brown: "I don't know when he didn't run those steps. Mike was just driven. You would just think, well that's enough work, and Mike would still find time to go beyond that. It was extraordinary. Anybody who played with him had to look at him in admiration and for inspiration."
Mr. Webster served as a Steelers captain for nine years.
"Mike was very much a leader by example," Noll said. "We had guys who were all mouth. Mike didn't say much, but what he did resonated ... loudly."
Greene already had established his own reputation as a team leader when the undersized Mr. Webster arrived as a rookie in 1974.
"Mike was a little guy with a big heart," said Greene, defensive line coach with the Arizona Cardinals. "He was always smart and quick, then he got strong. Ernie [Holmes] and I used to beat up on him in practice pretty good for the first couple years, then we couldn't do it anymore."
His dedication to playing, however, irked some teammates when he became the Steelers' first union member to break ranks and join a patchwork group of replacement players for three strike games in 1987. He announced his retirement for the first time after that season after a dispute with the team over not paying him for the one game that was canceled by the strike. He unretired two days later and played one more season for the Steelers, 1988, before joining the Chiefs.
The Steelers did not protect him in 1989 under the old Plan B free agency, and he retired and joined the Chiefs. as an assistant coach. They technically signed him as a free agent when they agreed with him that he could help them more by playing than coaching.
The Chiefs made him an assistant strength and conditioning coach after his third and final retirement, and he lived in an area of the Chiefs' equipment room. Mr. Webster, though, drifted away from his job as he found life after football difficult both emotionally and physically. He lived the past few years in Moon with his son, Garrett, a senior at Moon High School.
Kansas City President Carl Peterson stayed friendly with Mr. Webster and quietly helped him financially. Peterson remembers Mr. Webster fondly as someone who came into a young team and showed them what a winner looked like.
"Mike always had time and concern for everyone else's problems, but never one of his own," Peterson said. "I think his legacy was and always will be that he's truly a team player."
Mr. Webster's post-football decline into drug use and homelessness saddened those who knew him, especially his former teammates.
Many tried to reach out and help, but Mr. Webster turned them away. Mr. Webster was supposed to be one of the honorary co-captains when the Steelers opened Heinz Field last season, but he failed to show for the game. Mr. Webster attended the Steelers Steelers' reunion for their Hall of Famers at Heinz Field in last July, but he declined to participate in the taping of it for television, preferring to stay out of the public eye.
Former tackle Jon Kolb described Mr. Webster's death as "shocking, but not surprising."
"We don't live forever, but some people you just kind of think are strong and will live forever, at least longer than you. He didn't miss games, didn't miss practices.
"You get used to that kind of stuff, and then the reality sets in. Steve Courson had a birthday party for him about five yars years ago. Things seemed like on the upswing for him, but it was only temporary."
Kolb, Ilkin, Brown, Bradshaw and most of his teammates prefer to remember Mr. Webster as the Iron Mike they knew they could always count counted on being to be there.
"I remember seeing that on the banners in the stadium," Kolb said. "He had those huge arms. He'd play through injuries, and you'd see the highlight film and there would be Mike running with his lips fluttering, his motor always running."
The motor stopped at 12:44 a.m. Monday.
Mr. Webster is survived by two sons, Garrett, 17, and Colin, 23, a corporal in the U.S. Marines stationed at Camp LeJeune, N.C., and two daughters Brooke, 25, and Hillary Webster, 15, of Madison, Wis.
Visitation will be tomorrow from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 4:30-8:30 p.m. at Somma Funeral Home, 5405 Steubenville Pike, Robinson. A funeral service will be there at 10 a.m. Friday.
Donations can be made to the Webster Children's Fund, c/o Parkvale Savings, 1789 Pine Hollow Rd., McKees Rocks, 15136.
Post-Gazette sports writers Mike White and Chuck Finder contributed to this obituary.
Story published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Published in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Sept. 24, 2002 Mike Webster
Football career - Michael Lewis Webster (March 18, 1952 – September 24, 2002) was an American football player who played as a center in the National Football League from 1974 to 1990 with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs. He is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, class of 1997.
NFL Draft‎: ‎1974‎ / Round: 5 / Pick: 125 Weight‎: ‎255 lb (116 kg)
Died‎: ‎September 24, 2002 (aged 50); ‎Pittsburgh, PA. High school‎: ‎Rhinelander‎; (‎Rhinelander, Wisconsin.
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Mike Webster
Most commonly known name
Mike Webster
Full name
Michael Lewis Webster, Iron Mike
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Mike Webster was born on in Wisconsin United States
Birth
Mike Webster died on in Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania United States
Death
Mike Webster was born on in Wisconsin United States
Mike Webster died on in Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania United States
Birth
Death
Heart attack.
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Mike Webster, 50, Dies; Troubled Football Hall of Famer
By FRANK LITSKY SEPT. 25, 2002

Mike Webster, whose Hall of Fame pro football career was followed by more than a decade of physical and psychological turmoil apparently brought on by repeated blows to the head on the field, died yesterday in a Pittsburgh hospital. He was 50.
The cause of death was a heart attack, the Pittsburgh Steelers said. Webster played center for 15 seasons (1974-88) for the Steelers and two seasons (1989-90) for the Kansas City Chiefs. In 1997, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, and in 2000 he was named to the National Football League's all-time team.
Webster was a pivotal player on the standout Steeler teams that captured four Super Bowl championships in the 1970's. He was an undersized 225-pound center at the University of Wisconsin who lingered in the N.F.L. draft until the fifth round, when he was selected by the Steelers. He transformed himself into a 260-pound tough-minded professional, a man known as Iron Mike who played bare-armed in freezing weather and helped set the tone for a Pittsburgh offense that included the future Hall of Famers Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann and John Stallworth.
Of the 22 players who were part of all four Steeler Super Bowl teams, Webster was the last to leave and the first to die.
''I couldn't have been the player I was without him,'' Bradshaw said. ''He was so smart, so prepared for everything we would face in a game. We all worked hard, but none as hard as Mike did.''
Chuck Noll, his Steelers coach, said, ''He was very smart, a great technician.''
But Webster's transition to post-football life was filled with setbacks. He increasingly lived away from home, sometimes sleeping in his car. His marriage broke up. He lost money in bad investments. He was often reclusive.
In 1997, just before his Hall of Fame induction, his troubled life became public, and he told The Atlanta Journal and Constitution: ''Because of all this publicity over my situation, people treat me like I'm dying or something. And I don't want their pity. Things in general, they're getting a lot better.''
At the time, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Webster was ''homeless, unemployed, deep in debt, beset with medical ailments, lacking health insurance, in the midst of divorce, in the care of a psychiatrist and on medication, and involved in a complex lawsuit over real estate investments.''
But Webster tried to reassure people that his life was not as damaged as it seemed. ''I don't think it's anybody's business,'' he said of his problems. ''I'm not destitute.'' And responding to reports that he had lived in his car for 18 months, he told The St. Petersburg Times:
''From time to time, yes, I did sleep in my car and stay in my car. There's a broad definition of what living out of your car is. And yes, I slept in a train station one time. I had some things to think through. I wasn't broke. I wasn't in danger. I was just out of gas, tired and exhausted, and that's as far as I got that day.''
In 1999, Webster was charged with forging 19 prescriptions to obtain Ritalin, a stimulant mainly used for children with attention deficit hyperactivity. He said he was using the drug to treat brain damage caused by repeated head injuries that had led him to behave erratically.
Webster's doctors said that the concussions Webster had in his career had indeed damaged his frontal lobe, causing cognitive dysfunction, and that his attention span and concentration had been affected.
Webster also stated that in his playing days he had tried anabolic steroids -- illegal body-building substances that can cause health problems -- but he maintained they were not responsible for his condition.
''I am not seeking your pity or sympathy,'' he said at a news conference at the time. ''I'm not seeking a pardon for my actions, and I'm not really asking for your understanding, even though grown men need understanding. But I do promise you this: No matter what happens, I will answer the charges.''
During that same period, Dr. Fred Jay Krieg, a clinical psychologist, said Webster had ''the football version of punch drunk.''
''It doesn't get better,'' Krieg added. ''You get more and more demented. It's sad.''
In September 1999, Webster pleaded no contest to the forgery charges and was placed on probation for five years. Later, he was treated for depression and symptoms of congestive heart failure.
Two years ago, Webster's son Garrett moved from Wisconsin to live with him in Pittsburgh. The son, at 6 feet 9 inches and 340 pounds, is a high school senior and an offensive lineman on his football team.
''I have to take care of my dad,'' he said a week ago. ''There will be some mornings he can't get up from the couch because he feels so terrible.''
Webster's erratic habits and continued absences contributed to a breakup of his marriage, and his former wife, Pamela, said she had to sell their house and car and take a job as a cleaning woman.
Webster is also survived by two sons, Colin of Camp LeJeune, N.C., and Garrett; two daughters, Hillary and Brooke; two grandchildren; his father, William, of Harshaw, Wis.; two brothers, Reid and Joe Webster; and two sisters, Wendy and Jane Webster.
Michael L. Webster was born March 18, 1952, in Tomahawk, Wis., and was reared on a 640-acre potato farm. He didn't play high school ball until his junior year, but won a scholarship to Wisconsin. As a Steeler, he played in nine Pro Bowl games and 245 N.F.L. games, including 177 in a row. He earned $16,000 in his first season, $400,000 in his last.
When Webster was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he chose Bradshaw to present him. And Webster's acceptance speech was emotional and prophetic.
''You only fail if you don't finish the game,'' he said. ''If you finish, you won. You have to measure by what you started out with, by what you overcome. Who wants to get to the end of their life and find out they haven't lived at all? You're going to fail -- I did -- but that's O.K. because in your life no one is keeping score. Just finish the game.''

Refresh this page to see various historical events that occurred during Mike's lifetime.

In 1952, in the year that Mike Webster was born, on July 2, Dr. Jonas E. Salk tested the first dead-virus polio vaccine on 43 children. The worst epidemic of polio had broken out that year - in the U.S. there were 58,000 cases reported. Of these, 3,145 people had died and 21,269 were left with mild to disabling paralysis.

In 1965, at the age of only 13 years old, Mike was alive when the television show "I Spy" premiered in the fall season on NBC. The stars were Bill Cosby and Robert Culp, making Cosby the first African American to headline a television show. Four stations - in Georgia, Florida, and Alabama - refused to air the show.

In 1977, at the age of 25 years old, Mike was alive when on January 21st, President Carter pardoned "draft dodgers" - men who avoided the draft during the Vietnam War. He fulfilled a campaign promise with the pardon. But it only applied to civilian evaders - the estimated 500,000 to 1 million active-duty personnel who went AWOL were not included.

In 1981, Mike was 29 years old when on January 20th, Ronald Reagan became the 40th President of the United States. He ran against the incumbent, Jimmy Carter, and won 50.7% of the popular vote to Carter's 41.0%.

In 1997, at the age of 45 years old, Mike was alive when on June 26th, the first Harry Potter book by J. K. Rowling was released. "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" was an immediate success and spawned not only sequels but also movies, video games, plays, and amusement park attractions. J.K. Rowling, at the time of the first book a poor single mother, has become a multi-billionaire.

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