“Practice, practice, practice.” That was the mantra Mike Webster’s son, Colin Webster, heard constantly when he was growing up.
It was how “Iron Mike” of the Pittsburgh Steelers lived his life. He left his house regularly on the off season to go watch game tapes, to scribble in a notebook different plans and ideas to improve his performance. “He practiced driving a sled almost daily it seemed,” Colin remembered. “He worked the basics, over and over again.”
He ate steaks and drank milk in large quantities. He had a thing for potatoes too, according to Colin, with lots and lots of butter. “He never gained an appreciable amount of fat, probably because his two and three hour workouts (and occasionally longer) would eat up all those calories, and also because he actively tried to avoid weight gain after he reached 245 or 250.”
He was a bad singer but a stoic athlete albeit he never acknowledged the latter. “I am not a great athlete,” he said. “I’m not quick or coordinated, so my only chance is to tire the other guy out, hit him hard and never let up.”
Another memory of Colin Webster was the maniacal steps routine his father followed. “He would run the stadium steps pretty much every workout − that’s usually the first thing you will hear from Wolfley, Ilkin, or the other guys. They said they always just wanted to go shower after practice, and Dad would start running the steps, trying to train his legs to stay fresh and ready for more no matter how much “football” activity they had done, so he could always turn it on 100 percent for the whole game.” That’s the image that stayed with his son and the image you see before you captured by the Post-Gazette photographer Mark Murphy.
For all of these things and the dangerous career in the NFL, Mike Webster paid the highest price. “The brutal beating encountered in every game adds up over time,” his son wrote. “‘Oklahoma’ drills, which left internal scarring around the internal organs and the brain, head slaps, and the like don’t help either.” Mike Webster was the first former NFL player diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). He died at age 50. His story will soon be told in the Will Smith movie, which will be filmed in Pittsburgh this year.
In the Post-Gazette archives our editors found not only photographs of one of the toughest Hall of Famers but also a story by Jonathan Silver detailing the battles of “Iron Mike.”