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200 offer final tribute to Steelers' Webster

A mournful huddle

Saturday, September 28, 2002

By Chuck Finder, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The sun muscled its way through a tropical storm front and opened a gaping hole in the clouds yesterday morning. It shined on the 200 or so folks who solemnly filed into the police-guarded back door of the Joseph M. Somma Funeral Home.

Former Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw embraces Pam Webster, widow of Mike Webster. Former defensive back Mel Blount, background was among many ex-Steelers who attended services yesterday. (John Beale, Post-Gazette)

They came to bid farewell to Mike Webster, even in death such a center of attention that his memorial service packed two rooms and a hallway, that Terry Bradshaw attended his first Steelers funeral, that a few former grid opponents felt compelled to make their way to Robinson Township.

Three days after the Hall of Fame center died from complications following a heart attack, Michael Lewis Webster, 50, was remembered yesterday as warmly as if he were being enshrined again, five years and two months removed from his day in Canton, Ohio.

"Not easy to say goodbye to a friend," Bradshaw began, his voice wavering, his words halting. "Especially one I knew so well. Especially his butt."

Like Bradshaw, fellow Hall of Famers from the Steelers like Mel Blount, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, former coach Chuck Noll and owner Dan Rooney were in attendance.

So were such ex-Steelers from Webster's 1974-1988 days as J.T. Thomas, Dwayne Woodruff, Bryan Hinkle, Mike Merriweather, Gary Dunn, Emil Boures, Larry Brown, Steve Courson, Tunch Ilkin, Jon Kolb, John Rienstra, Craig Wolfley and Matt Bahr, along with plenty of other former teammates and team employees. Also present were owner Lamar Hunt and General Manager Carl Peterson, Webster's employers in his final two NFL seasons, 1989-90, with the Kansas City Chiefs.

In perhaps the greatest tribute to a football player, such opponents as former Green Bay Packers linebacker Dave Robinson and former New York Giants middle linebacker Harry Carson likewise came to the hilltop funeral home off Steubenville Pike.

"Going up against him, there's a certain respect level you establish," Carson said. "I respected him tremendously. Oh, yeah, he was very intimidating. There were guys who were bigger, but this guy was strong. He definitely hit you. A lot of athletes now, they talk; he just played."

Colin Webster, the elder son of Mike and Pam Webster's four children, looked over the two rooms and the hallway clogged with wide-shouldered bodies, then remarked: "It would have meant so much to my father to see everybody that's here right now."

The service began shortly after 10 a.m., when the family gathered around the open casket behind a closed partition. Fifteen minutes later, the partition opened and the casket was closed, and the Rev. Hollis Haff of New Community Church welcomed the crowd.

Al Seretti, a friend since 1996, began the service by saying, "I'm glad I didn't know Mike Webster as a football player. I knew him as a friend. Some people you know all your life. I've known him six years, and I didn't cry as hard when my brother died. Mike was like a brother to me."

After readings by Webster's daughters, Brooke and Hilary, came remembrances from sons Colin and Garrett, a senior offensive lineman at Moon High and his father's roommate in a Moon apartment the past couple of years. Garrett spoke of the proud grandfather bouncing Colin's two kids off his "bony knees" and the movie buff quoting his beloved John Wayne. He added, "He had some problems, but he overcame them all."

Swann next went to the lectern, amid the many flowers and photographs. He remembered rooming with Webster as rookies in 1974, discovering that a receiver from Southern California and a center from Wisconsin had plenty in common -- including Swann's being just 11 days older. He talked of a later pheasant-hunting trip when the burly lineman beat the graceful pass-catcher to the trigger twice, admonishing him: "Swanny, you have to learn to move efficiently."

Bradshaw, though, elicited the most reaction.

This was his command performance after missing the funerals of Art Rooney Sr. in 1988 -- a decision Bradshaw came to regret -- and in 2001 of defensive lineman Steve Furness, the first member of the four-Super Bowl-winning Steelers to die.

"How many times, Moon [Mullins] and Sam [Davis], did we go to the line and Webby would go, 'No, Brad, no,'" Bradshaw recalled. "We didn't rehearse that. We didn't practice it. Webby saw something I definitely didn't see, and he was telling me not to run the play called.

"He loved it when people criticized me in the papers. And he was the first one to keep it going. 'They think you're stupid and dumb. I call all the plays,' he'd say with a laugh. Now I have to come clean and tell everybody: He was right. He did call all the plays.

"It's scary to know today it ends," Bradshaw concluded, pausing a moment to collect himself. "We should never allow the passing of a loved one to be the drawing card to keep our family together."

In his closing eulogy, the Rev. Haff spoke of how Webster never missed a service or Bible study, how his devotion touched teammates.

"Whatever happened after his career -- and we may never understand what happened -- there's a sense of comfort and hope where he stood with God."

In the end, his life was celebrated in a simple ceremony followed by a luncheon in a nearby fire hall. Just as he would've wanted it, family and friends maintained.

Chuck Finder can be reached at cfinder@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1724

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