ATLANTA - Former NFL fullback Craig "Ironhead" Heyward died Saturday after a 7½-year fight with brain cancer, 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 star 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 would talk with Heyward when he came to see his son play.
"He wasn't real mobile, but he'd been rehabbing. He though 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, 250-pound fullback ran for 4,301 yards in his NFL career and had 1,559 yards receiving.
"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."
Ironhead Statistics / Facts:
Heyward departed Pitt as an underclassman to enter the NFL draft and was the first-round selection of the New Orleans Saints in 1988. He played from 1988-92 for the Saints and then had stints with Chicago (1993), Atlanta (1994-96), St. Louis (1997) and Indianapolis (1998).
In 149 games, Heyward registered 1,031 carries for 4,301 yards and 30 touchdowns. He also posted 177 receptions for 1,559 yards and four touchdowns. His finest season came with the Falcons in 1995, when he rushed for 1,083 yards and six touchdowns and earned his lone Pro Bowl berth.
Complete statement from University of Pittsburgh Head Football Coach Dave Wannstedt:
"Craig Heyward truly ranks among the all-time greats in Pitt football history. I will always remember him as a tremendous player who had an impressive attitude on and off the field. We spoke just a few weeks ago and I was struck by the typical upbeat "Ironhead" attitude he displayed despite his health. The thoughts and prayers of the entire Pitt family are with Craig's loved ones during this time of sorrow."
Harry G. Psaros can be contacted at email@example.com.