View Full Version : 75th Anniversary spotlight - "He earned his nickname"

05-22-2007, 12:16 AM

It's alittle long but what a great read about the best Center to ever play the game as far as I'm concerned ! :towelwave:

Reprinted, Courtesy of PFRA

He was the last piece of the greatest draft in NFL history. The sturdiest piece, for sure, but also the final piece.

Mike Webster, who was born March 18, 1952, in Tomahawk, Wisconsin, played more seasons (15) and more games (220) than any other player in Pittsburgh Steelers' history. He joined the Steelers as a part of that 1974 draft class that netted the team four future Hall of Famers.

In order of their selection in that draft, those Hall of Fame players are: Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster.

Since Webster, an All-Big Ten center, stood just 6-foot-2 and weighed a mere 225 pounds -- a bantam weight by pro football standards -- there was considerable doubt that he could handle opposing NFL Goliaths. However, he quickly demonstrated that he could hold his own against the game's best.

Always in top condition, Webster maintained an unswerving dedication to excellence, and a quick learner, he was able to play in every game during his first two seasons with the Steelers by splitting time at center with veteran Ray Mansfield. Additionally, he was the long-snapper on all punts and kicks.

However, in the final game of the 1975 season, Coach Chuck Noll decided to insert Webster into the starting lineup. It was the beginning of a remarkable string of 150 consecutive starts that lasted until 1986, when he missed the first four games with a dislocated elbow, an injury that might have kept a lesser man out twice as long.

Those were the only games "Iron Mike" would miss during his first 16 seasons. From his rookie season through 1985, Webster played in an amazing 177 consecutive games. As one veteran writer put it, "nothing short of an Act of Congress" would keep Webster from taking his place in the Steelers starting lineup.

"That's the toughness I like," said Mansfield. "Not a macho toughness, where you've got to strut it around, but an inner toughness, the John Wayne type who doesn't complain." The com¬parison to the popular actor was no accident, since Mansfield knew his former understudy was a big fan.

Noll put it another way. "John Wayne may have been fiction in heroics. Mike's not fiction. Mike's real."

In 1976, Webster showed his versatility when injuries to the Steelers' offensive line forced Noll to shuffle his linemen. Webster started the first two games at center, the next six at guard, and the final six at center. "Mike gives us versatility," said Steelers offensive line coach Dan Radakovich prior to the start of the 1977 season. "He's got the quickness, strength and intelligence to play center, guard or tackle. Mike was the best center in the league last year. He's the best because he has great self motivation."

Like most players, Webster found life in the NFL to be a continuing education. And, like most offensive linemen, he quick¬ly realized that fan recognition came primarily for mistakes.

Although Mike was snapping on punts since 1974, many fans weren't even aware of his special teams role until a nationally-televised Monday night game in 1976, against the Minnesota Vikings. In that game, Steelers' punter Bobby Walden was unable to handle a high snap from Webster, and the result was a botched kick. That set up the Vikings second and clinching touchdown. Suddenly the little-noticed center was the talk of the town.

Webster even received a call from his father who suggested that his son wasn't looking through his legs at the punter before lifting his head and snapping the ball. Humbly, Webster had to acknowledge that his father's observation was on the mark. "I hadn't been looking all year," Webster recalled. "I guess I got too cocky. Rad (Radakovich) told me I was acting too much like a pro player. Now they (the fans) know who I am. I'm not just a number," Webster added with a smile.

Quickness, strength, intelligence and motivation were just a few of the weapons found in the Webster football arsenal. Intimi¬dation was another. "Watch any other lineman in the league; they all saunter up to the line," former Steelers' offensive line coach Bill Meyers once observed. "But Mike sprints to the line on every play. That's intimidating. He whipped your butt on the last play and here he comes sprinting up to do it again."

A natural leader, Webster played in 19 playoff games with the Steelers and was the team's offensive captain for nine sea¬sons. "Webbie" was considered the strongest Steelers player by most of his teammates and in the 1980 offseason he gave credence to that belief by winning the NFL's Strongman Competition.

"I always felt the best way to be able to do my best was to just get going and keep going for as long as I could," Webster said. "I had a coach tell me one time, `You'll play much better if you just relax a little more between plays.' Well he just doesn't understand. That guy over there on the other side of the line is trying to beat me up on every play. I'm not real calm about that. I do much better if I just keep a steady pace for as long as I can."

Webster's steady play earned him All-Pro recognition six straight years from 1978 to 1983, and he was named to the All-AFC team five times from 1978 through 1982. Nine times he made the Pro Bowl. That's more than any offensive lineman in NFL history. "Mike has been the thing you work around," explained Noll. "It's the one position we never had to concern ourselves with."

Although individual recognition came fast and furiously for Webster, he was the consummate team player. "I was very, very fortunate to have been a part of a collective group of people who accomplished something that's very, very rare in any profession," he once said about the Steelers' four Super Bowl wins. "There's just no feeling like collectively doing something to be the best, and sharing that feeling with others."

Throughout his career, Webster maintained a work ethic -- report early, leave late and play hurt -- that earned him the respect of everyone who ever played with him. He credits his strength and conditioning as the primary reason he was able to avoid serious injury during his career. As a part of his condi¬tioning, Webster maintained a weight room in his home and for a period of time even had a blocking sled in his front yard.

"I'm not a very good athlete," he offered. "I don't run very well, and I'm not very agile or nimble. The only chance I have to be suc¬cessful is if I'm in better condition than the other guy."

Mike's dedication and work ethic didn't go unnoticed. In 1985, following an early-season game with the Houston Oilers, his teammates awarded him with a game ball for his courageous play. Not only did he start that game, but he played every offensive down despite having missed the entire week of practice with an extremely painful back injury.

"Every offensive lineman wants to grow up to be Mike Web¬ster," former Steelers' guard Craig Wolfley once said of his teammate. "But when God made him, he used a different kind of material. There will never be another one like him."

On Feb. 1, 1988, the Steelers announced that they were leaving their long-time star unprotected under Plan B, the NFL's modified form of free agency. Twenty-three days later, Webster, the last active member of the Steelers to have played in all four Super Bowl championships, announced his retirement. Five days after that, the Kansas City Chiefs announced that they had hired Webster as an assistant line coach.

But within a few weeks the 15-year veteran realized that he still had the desire to play. Together, Chiefs' President/General Manager Carl Peterson and Coach Marty Schottenheimer, convinced "Iron Mike" to return to the field.

"Playing is the best way I can contribute to this organization right now," he said in an¬nouncing the continuation of his playing career. "I still feel strongly about playing, and I believe I can contribute in a positive fashion. It will be a tremendous challenge, and that excites me."

At age 37, Webster was a little uneasy about starting over, but after six weeks in the weight room he knew he was up to the task. Along with his considerable talent, Webster brought some¬thing more to the Chiefs -- experience and a winning tradition. "When opportunity comes along, you have to be ready in this business -- in any business," Webster told a reporter. "There are 46 people trusting me if I'm called upon. I get a certain satisfaction knowing that I'm a dependable guy."

And dependable he was. Webster was the Chiefs' starting center in 1989 and played in all 16 games.

In the 1990 season, his 17th in the NFL, Webster was used more as a spot player, as relief for rookie Tim Grunhard. Put¬ting it in perspective, Grunhard was 6 years old when Webster began his pro career. Once again demonstrating his long-standing belief that the team success far out-weighed individual recogni¬tion, Webster accepted his new role with typical stoic dignity.

"It doesn't matter to me who starts," he commented. "There are lots of ways for me to help the team. We've all got to commu¬nicate and work together and do what is best for the team."

Following the 1990 season, Mike Webster officially ended his 245-game career when he again announced his planned retirement. "It's been 17 wonderful years, but one thing you learn in this game is reality," he explained. "It's time."

05-22-2007, 07:08 AM
Thanks for posting that Mike was always one of my favorites:clap:

05-22-2007, 08:12 AM
i iwsh i would have been alive in those days.... and got to see the best draft in NFL history.

05-22-2007, 02:47 PM
Man what a player he was. I saw so many times when he would just man handle a guy at least twice his size, no once but for a whole game. Its very rare to find a great player like him.:tt02::cope::tt02::cope::tt02::cope:

05-22-2007, 03:09 PM
Mike Webster was a pimp

05-22-2007, 05:54 PM
Iron Mike, was the best Center to ever play the game. Can still picture his huge arms, that they had to cut the sleeves so they would fit through his jersey!

05-22-2007, 08:18 PM
Iron Mike, was the best Center to ever play the game. Can still picture his huge arms, that they had to cut the sleeves so they would fit through his jersey!

And he always trotted up to the line after breaking the huddle. He was the first dude there and ready to lead the charge on the next play. He was the prototypical center that every team would have loved to have.

05-23-2007, 02:59 PM
I actually got to see Mike Webster play in 1988, when the Steelers came out here to Arizona, Chuck Noll was our Coach then. It was the thrill of My life.:tt02:

05-23-2007, 10:29 PM
great read...thanks!