His mother, who raised her eight kids alone, would say, "If you make your bed hard, boy, you're gonna have to sleep in it." But Mom didn't exactly give him a soft bed to start with. "She'd beat us all the time," says Head. "She'd say to me, 'You're going out with your brother tonight, and if he gets in a fight and gets his ass kicked, I'm kickin' your ass when you get home.' "
Pushed by his past and pulled by his future, little Craig Heyward became a very violent boy. It was small wonder that between the ages of 10 and 12, Head had to reside at the Skillman Training School, near Trenton, N.J., which was either a kid's prison or a vocational school, depending on your interpretation.
They do not call him Ironhead because he mousses with Rust-Oleum products. They call him that because, until he was 27, no teacher, coach or adviser could seem to get a word inside that size 8¾ skull of his. ("All those hats that say ONE SIZE FITS ALL, I should sue," he says.) And because during street football games he would lower that cranium into the stomachs of other boys, who agreed that it hurt so much it must be made of iron. Also, a kid once clubbed him over the noggin with a billiard cue, and the cue broke in half.
"I was basically a to-hell-with-it guy," Head says. "I'd just say, 'Screw everything.' I didn't care. Everything was too much work or took too long, so I'd say, 'The hell with it.' "
After one of the great running back careers in New Jersey high school history, Ironhead, a C student, lit out for the University of Pittsburgh, where tackling him was like "tackling the USS Iowa," a Navy linebacker once said. Talking to him was also like talking to the USS Iowa. While he was recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery during his freshman year, he beat another student over the head with one of his crutches after someone complained that he was playing his stereo too loud. He was kicked off campus and suspended from the football team the following year but remained enrolled at Pitt. And even though he was told to keep away from a local businessman by the name of Marvin Lebovitz, even though the coaches and the advisers all told him Mr. Lebovitz was "off limits," he made Lebovitz his unofficial guardian and adviser. "He was takin' care of me," Head says with a smile. "He'd give me $50 here and $100 there. Hell, I didn't care what they said. I was hangin' with this guy."
Head's hearing didn't improve any after he left Pitt with a year of eligibility remaining and joined the NFL. In his five years with the New Orleans Saints, who drafted him 24th overall in 1988, and his one year with the Bears, he kept ignoring coaches' warnings, getting fatter and fatter, and playing less and less. The Bears offered him $200,000 to report to camp in 1993 at 285 pounds or less, and he came in at 305. Hey, Head, that's 10 grand a pound!
"I was an idiot," he says. "I was all about getting drunk. Man, we'd go out and drink a case of beer and a couple bottles of tequila. We'd be out there wildin', chasin' our little whores. Then at the end of the night I'd go to one of those all-night places and have four or five of those big Polish-sausage sandwiches. Man, they'd just smother the whole thing in onions. Or I'd go get me a big bag of frog legs, all fried, and maybe a bag of fried scallops. Get home at four or five in the morning and have to be at practice at 8 a.m. I mean, I'd be at practice still drunk! I didn't care. I wanted to be the big man. I wanted to be out there chillin', cussin' women. I thought the bigger the belly, the stronger you were."
Bear coach Dave Wannstedt would say to him, "Craig, we can get you help if you want it." But Head didn't see it as a problem. Just because he drank beer between two-a-days and guzzled two or three pitchers the night before games, and just because he'd awakened on the expressways, more than once, bound for some oncoming headlights and a satin-lined box, that didn't mean he had a problem.
Twelve hours and three pounds to go now, and Head, 29, must hit Calorie Canyon, the streets he must navigate before he makes the freedom of the road that will lead him home. First, he has to get by the McDonald's that taunts him from the hill above the Atlanta Falcon practice field every day, then the Popeye's Famous Fried Chicken that whispers his name. And then, god help him, the Waffle House!
"Oh, man," groans Head. The car seems to slow. No, no, no, Head. Don't forget what's waiting at home for you. Your two young boys, six-year-old Cameron and two-year-old Corey, whom you love, and your wife, Charlotte, who is waiting with a succulent dinner. You'll be eating in 10 minutes.... He barrels clown the road.