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Webster’s death unearths worm farm memories

The death of former Pittsburgh Steeler and Hall of Fame centerMike Webster made international news. Webster’s demise aaat the ageof 50 also brought back some foggy, local memories.

It was probably the late 1970s when Webster spent the night inBrookhaven. Perhaps it was late spring or early summer when he cameby The Daily Leader one afternoon for a brief visit and some freepublicity on a proposed worm farm.

Webster was part of a pyramid scam. Some fast-talking man fromthe big city, a blonde babe from Baton Rouge and Webster werelooking for financial support from gullible businessmen. YoungLaRue Baker fit that description.

We gathered in the DL’s old kitchen which now serves as themorgue for past issues of this newspaper. Webster, a mass ofmuscle, smiled and talked openly, his thick neck and bulging bicepsstraining the seams of a polo shirt.

“I like to get my hands dirty and work in the dirt,” saidWebster, a wide grin covering his face. He wasn’t telling a fib. Hegrew up on a 640-acre potato farm near Tomahawk, Wis. He didn’tplay football until his junior year in high school but still earneda scholarship at Wisconsin.

To say the least, we were impressed by Webster. What was it likeplaying for the Steelers and snapping the ball to quarterback TerryBradshaw?

“I get to touch the ball before Terry does,” answered Webster,still grinning. “We come in close contact on every play.”

Meanwhile, the city slicker crowed about the financial benefitsof operating a worm farm, including the long-term profits and thepositive effect on the environment. They posed for a picture anddeparted, searching for more free publicity.

“(Webster) was a real nice guy,” Baker remembered. “That’s whenthe Steelers were a real football team.” The Steelers won fourSuperbowls in six years

Webster was nicknamed “Iron Mike” by his Steeler teammates. Hepersonified the gritty, durable player. His tough-guy attitudehelped him play in 177 consecutive games. Some folks think he hadbrain damage from multiple concussions, leading to his erraticbehavior.

Webster was a powerful 260-pound strongman who was recognizedfor wearing short-sleeve jerseys in January’s below-freezingplayoff weather. Breaking from the huddle, he always ran up to theline of scrimmage, eager to block that mean defensive nose tackleacross the line.

Misfortune and bad investments hurt Webster. Divorced and nearlydestitute after his retirement, Webster temporarily slept in hispickup truck. He played 15 seasons with the Steelers until heretired in 1989. He was hired by the Kansas City Chiefs as anoffensive line coach but soon decided he wanted to play and spenttwo more years in the league. In 1997, he was inducted into the ProFootball Hall of Fame.

Professor Hoopla, B.S., has visions of being inducted into thePrognosticators Hall of Fame but he’s going to have to improve hispicking percentage. He predicted the winners of 25 games last weekand got 19 right. Here’s a preview of this weekend’s water-loggedgames, starting with two Thursday night specials.

Jones County at Co-Lin: Splish-splash, the wet stuff slows downthe Bobcats. Jones County 24-10.

Northeast at Southwest: The Bears have lost two straight gamesby four points or less. Tigers will make it three straight.Northeast 17-14.

Port Gibson at Brookhaven: Panthers look for a muddy but happyhomecoming on King Field. Brookhaven 28-21.

Brookhaven Academy at Oak Forest: There’s a football factorygrowing in Amite, La. Oak Forest 31-17.

St. Aloysius at Bogue Chitto: Unbeaten Flashes bring a talentedteam to Troy Smith Field. St. Al 27-16.

Enterprise at Salem: Yellow Jackets remain unbeaten in Region4-1A action. Enterprise 25-12.

Seminary at Loyd Star: This could be the best game in the area.Seminary 28-21.

Mount Olive at West Lincoln: Pirates have too much horsepowerfor the Bears. Mount Olive 27-12.

Crystal Springs at Wesson: In a Copiah County shootout, theCobras have the advantage. Wesson 35-21.

South Pike at Lawrence County: Eagles are expected to make a runfor the Class 4A state championship. South Pike 35-19.

Franklin County at North Pike: In a Region 7-3A showdown,Bulldogs escape with a victory. Franklin County 24-14.

In other area games, McComb should smash Raymond 49-6, CopiahAcademy should dump Central Private 21-17 and Parklane shouldplunder Lamar 39-7.

After sipping a Pepsi, Hoopla digests Saturday’s collegiatescene.

Mississippi State at LSU: Bulldogs need a defense to compete inthe SEC. LSU 38-21.

Southern Miss at Army: The Black Knights of the Hudson don’thave enough speed and muscle to upset a C-USA title contender.Southern Miss 37-14.

Valley State at Jackson State: Tigers apply an impressivewhipping on the Delta Devils. Jackson State 48-10.

In other Magnolia State action, Alcorn State should edge AlabamaState 28-18, Millsaps should manhandle South Alabama 37-14, SulRoss State should swamp Mississippi College 28-7 and Lambuth shouldlambaste Belhaven 22-6. Ole Miss has an open date to develop adefense.