Michael Webster, NFL Center, Member of Pro Football Hall of Fame, b. March 18, 1952 in Tomahawk, Wisconsin. d. September 24, 2002.
They called him "Iron Mike" because he was an unstoppable force, playing at center in a record 220 games for the Pittsburgh Steelers. A career that saw him earn four Superbowl rings snapping the football to Terry Bradshaw was one of great toughness. Consider spending 220 Sundays snapping a ball and then being slammed into by gigantic defensive linemen immediately afterwards. In the Pittsburgh glory days of the 1970s, it was Mike Webster who is often overlooked for his contributions anchoring an offensive line that helped turn Bradshaw and Franco Harris into household names. It was easy to spot Webster on the field. He was the one who cut the sleeves off his uniform and played with arms bare to the shoulder.
Webster was drafted by the Steelers in the fifth round of the 1974 NFL draft, not exactly an auspicious beginning for a player bound for a Hall of Fame career. Yet Webster, who played college football at the University of Wisconsin, proved himself to be more than just any fifth round draft pick. For fifteen years he would play at center for the Steelers, and at one time started 150 straight games. He retired with much fanfare in 1989 and took a coaching job with the Kansas City Chiefs. The sidelines did not suit him. Six weeks into the season, Webster slipped into a Chiefs uniform and added two more years to his playing career snapping the ball to Joe Montana amongst others.
Most people assume that the lives of the rich and famous are a blessed land of money and special privileges. For Mike Webster, once his playing days ended, the nightmare began. First there was the diagnosis by doctors that Webster was suffering from brain damage due to too many hits to the head while playing football. Then there were reports of drug abuse. Webster became estranged from his family and a few years after his retirement from the game that brought him fame and glory, he was homeless and broke.
In 1997, Terry Bradshaw presented Mike Webster for his induction to the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. It was a momentary oasis for Webster, a chance to once again stand in the spotlight. Then, in 1999, Webster was put on probation after being arrested for forging prescriptions for Ritalin. Soon after, his son, Garrett Webster, a high school offensive lineman, moved from Madison, Wisconsin to move in with and look after his father. In an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Garrett Webster reported that his father's health was deteriorating while they lived together, but that they bonded and became close.
On September 24, 2002, Mike Webster suffered a heart attack and died in surgery. He was 50 years old.
On Sunday, September 29, 2002, Mike Webster played center for the first time in a new league, on another field not currently televised, snapping the ball to Johnny Unitas.
Researched at Post-Gazette.com