Tim Benz: Steelers’ Cam Heyward glows at father’s potential enshrinement

June 6, 2018
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Cam Heyward’s voice trailed off. You could almost see him going through a mental checklist of what boxes in his basement he’d be digging through after he got home from practice.

Maybe it’s stashed somewhere in the garage. Perhaps the attic?

“I lost it. I’ve got to find another one,” the Steelers defensive end said.

Heyward was lamenting not being able to find his vintage “Ironhead-on-a-stick” photo of his father, Pitt running back Craig “Ironhead” Heyward.

If Heyward can’t track down one, he may be able to find a much grander dedication to his late father in Atlanta soon, though — in the College Football Hall of Fame.

Heyward’s name is one of 214 on the recently released ballot for induction. The announcement of the class will be made Jan. 7 in Santa Clara, Calif., site of the College Football Playoff National Championship game that night.

Other names on that list include Pitt quarterback Matt Cavanaugh and Penn State products Bobby Engram, Steve Wisniewski, Glenn Killinger and Jeff Hartings.

In 1987, Heyward tallied at least 100 yards in every game and finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy balloting. That season, he led the NCAA in rushing with 1,791 yards. He left Oakland as the second-leading rusher in Panther history (behind Tony Dorsett) with 3,086 career yards.

Cam Heyward was only 17 years old when his dad died at the age of 39. He had suffered a stroke and battled a brain tumor the last few years of his life.

The Steelers captain has first-hand memories of his dad’s NFL career, most vividly of his days in Atlanta. But he relies on the internet to give him flashbacks of his father rumbling through NCAA opponents.

“I still get to catch YouTube clips of him breaking runs against Miami,” Heyward beamed Tuesday. “Him picking up a linebacker and slamming him to the ground. I hear so many stories of him around Pittsburgh.

“He was a legend in Pittsburgh lore.”

While unable to find that elusive popsicle-stick-face, the younger Heyward has other items documenting his father’s Pitt days.

“There’s one photo I’ve got to get framed,” Heyward said. “He’s hurdling a DB or a linebacker. He looks pretty nimble. It’s pretty sweet picture.”

He could be referencing the time Heyward pulled off a move like that against Brigham Young. Or maybe he’s got a still shot of the play against Penn State at 6 minutes, 28 seconds of this highlight reel.

Those are some pretty good hops for 5-foot-11 guy hovering between 250 and 280 pounds.

“I always hear stories of how great of a college player he was,” Heyward said. “I heard he was the ‘Fred Astaire of Football.’ ”

Heyward earned that nickname because of his stunningly nimble feet and athleticism. Those attributes complemented his massive bowling-ball physique. One of the video clips Heyward recalls seeing is that of Panthers play-by-play man Bill Hillgrove interviewing then-coach Foge Fazio while his father was dunking a basketball in the background.

Heyward admitted the timing of his father’s name appearing on the ballot was a bit rough. Craig Heyward died May 2, 2006. So his son just recently went through the anniversary of that event. He posted about it on Instagram.

“It’s bittersweet,” Heyward said. “But I’m just happy he’s getting recognized. Hopefully he gets in.”

Heyward expanded for some time about the serendipity of coming to Pittsburgh for his pro career. The Panthers did try to recruit him to his father’s alma mater. In fact, Pitt was the first school to offer him a scholarship.

“Luckily I didn’t go,” Heyward joked. “Coach (Dave) Wannstedt got fired the next year anyway.”

Cam Heyward wound up in Columbus at Ohio State. Yet the NFL brought him back here to Pittsburgh, where he was born. And it happened just five years after his father passed away.

“I think my dad had a say in it,” Heyward grinned.

Maybe now another circle will be complete if Heyward gets enshrined for his college accomplishments in the city where he had most of his pro success.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at tbenz@tribweb.com or via Twitter @TimBenzPGH.

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