When you are about 5-11, 265 and pretty fast, you are a tough man to tackle. I’m sure at some point, some coach wanted to move Craig ‘Ironhead’ Heyward to Nose Guard, or some other Defensive or Offensive Line position. But, the Fullback position was more important before these spread offenses took over the game. He was listed at times as 265 pounds, but often he was much bigger than that weighing in at over 300 pounds at times.
There are different stories out there about how Craig Heyward gained the nickname ‘Ironhead’. But, his son, Cameron who played at Ohio State and now for the Pittsburgh Steelers, tells the best and most reliable tale of how the nickname came about. Cameron who also claims to be his father’s best friend, says that at the age of 12 or 13 another kid broke a pool cue over Craig’s head and his father barely blinked. Supposedly, his grandmother gave him the name.
Other stories say he earned the nickname in football for having an exceptionally hard head. Still others say he was very stubborn when he was young, or hard headed. Whatever, or however, he earned the nickname of Ironhead, it was very fitting. There was a time when the name Ironhead was
all that was needed to identify one of the best big backs of all time.
Born and raised in Passaic, New Jersey, Heyward attended the same high school as Ohio State and Oakland Raider legend Jack Tatum.
Craig Heyward was a USA Today high school All American in 1983. Still in their Heyday, the Pittsburgh Panthers gladly signed Heyward in their 1984 recruiting class. Pitt heyday
But, 1984 saw the end of the super talented Pittsburgh Panther teams with the 3-7-1 record as proof of that.
Heyward came in and led the team in rushing as a true freshman picking up 539 yards on 123 carries and averaged 4.4 yards per carry.
Ironhead took a redshirt season in 1985 as the team improved to 5-5-1 and Charles Gladman rushed for over a 1,000 yards.
Pittsburgh brought in new head coach Mike Gottfried in 1986, but their record was still 5-5-1. Ironhead was back and he rushed for a team high of 756 yards and 8 Touchdowns. He also hauled in 29 receptions for an additional 361 yards and a Touchdown.
1987 was the season that made Ironhead something of a national hero. The Panthers bounced back to a respectable 8-4 record behind Craig Ironhead Heyward’s remarkable season.
In Heisman like fashion, Ironhead ran for 1,791 yards on 387 carries and 12 Touchdowns. He also caught 22 passes for 207 yards and another Touchdown.
In his 3 seasons at Pittsburgh, Ironhead ran for 3,086 yards and 24 Touchdowns. His rushing totals
place him 3rd all time in the Pitt record books.
Nobody liked it at the time, but Hayward elected to skip his final season of college football. It wasn’t very common back in those days contrary to what some people might say. Herschel Walker set the trend after the 1982 season, but he went to the USFL, not the NFL. More and more players would start doing it, but in 1987 or 1988, it just wasn’t done.
The New Orleans Saints picked Ironhead with their 1st pick of the 1988 draft at number 24. In the NFL, Ironhead became more of a standout blocker. His best rushing season with the Saints came in 1990 when he ran for 599 yards.
It was also in the NFL that Ironhead’s weight became a problem and at one point he supposedly he tipped the scales at 340 pounds.
Ironhead played a season with the Chicago Bears and that was a waste. With the Atlanta Falcons, Ironhead knew his best years as a Pro. He was back in shape and he was running hard. In 1994, Heyward exploded for 779 yards and 7 Touchdowns.
But, in 1995, Ironhead had his best year in the NFL with 1,083 yards rushing and 6 Touchdowns.
Ironhead moved on from Atlanta after 3 seasons, his best years as a pro. He joined the St Louis Rams for a year and then he signed with Indianapolis. During the 1998 season in Indy, he complained of blurry vision and they found cancer pressing against his optic nerve.
He was operated on and they removed most of the problem and he then went through radiation which ended his football career.
They thought he was cancer-free.
After football, Ironhead had a stroke and then the cancer came back as it so often does. This time it was in his brain and inoperable.
At the ripe old age of 39, one of the more impressive power backs the world has ever seen, Craig
Ironhead Heyward passed away. Cancer is a very ugly thing taking so many before their time.
Ironhead left behind some football playing sons. One of his sons is named Cameron and he played at Ohio State and he was a first round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers where he plays now.
Craig Jr walked on at Middle Tennessee State and another, Connor, just signed with Michigan State in their 2017 recruiting class.
Ironhead Heyward, Jerome Bettis, Mike Alstott and a few others are the power backs that I loved watching. These are guys that you want to give the ball to on 3rd on short, or 4th and inches, or on the goal line. They are the guys that you hand it to inside the 5 yard line, that will get you that Touchdown.
Ironhead Heyward types are what made the game of football so fun to watch for me.