Saturday, May 27, 2006

Ironhead Heyward, RIP

A former star running back at Pitt, Craig "Ironhead" Heyward was the predecessor to Jerome Bettis -- the enormous feature back with power and some speed. Heyward left Pitt after his junior year but never became a star in the NFL, primarily because teams wanted to use an RB his size (5-11, 270+) as a fullback, not a halfback. It took Natrone Means' 1000+ yard season in 1994 for NFL teams to realize that the big SOB who could knock over the opponent and then run past him could be a legitimate #1 running option. That set the stage for Ironhead's best season, his 1995 campaign when he ran for 1083 yards for the run-and-shoot Falcons.

But Heyward isn't known so much for his running prowess as he is (or should be) as a spokesman who transformed the use of a cleaning product. In 1996 or so, Zest soap began marketing its liquid shower soap to men. Its spokesman was a jovial, enormous black man -- in other words, someone whose manhood could not be questioned by the target audience. Ironhead Heyward became the spokesman for Zest shower gel and dismissed all the "manly man" objections to using a "girly" product during his monologue pitches. Heck, he even made it acceptable to use a loofa!

It worked. Zest kept Ironhead as a spokesman until he retired in 1998 and men's shower soaps became a product line that Zest's rivals immediately sought to supply. But Ironhead couldn't reap the full benefits of his efforts: in 1998 he learned he had a brain tumor, which would eventually take away his eyesight. For the next eight years, Ironhead fought recurring brain tumors and the deleterious effects they had upon his nervous system and his body such that Heyward required hospice care. Until today, when he died at age 39.

Ironhead Heyward, RIP.

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