Five-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro Steelers defensive tackle Cam Heyward takes a timeout for some playoff Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby.
Q: What does it mean to be a Pittsburgh Steeler?
A: The tradition that was set before I was even here … there’s a winning culture that goes along with it. But it’s a blue-collar city that football, everybody breathes it. And when you put on that jersey, there’s a level of honor and respect, and you if you play on defense, you better be ready to hit … to be great, be about winning, and be about that culture, because that’s what Pittsburgh Steelers do.
Q: What drives you?
A: I think growing up, always in my dad’s [Craig “Ironhead” Heyward] shadow, I wanted to make my own legacy, and I wanted to make sure when you heard my name, it wasn’t just the son of Craig Hayward, and I try to live that. I try to make sure I leave a lasting legacy in whatever I do. But as an individual and part of this NFL, one is to ultimately win a Super Bowl. I can say I’ve never done that, and I know when you play for Pittsburgh, that’s what you’re judged about: Were you able to get it done for your team? I view myself as a guy who not only wants to be recognized as one of the top guys in my position, but a guy that I’d be willing to do whatever it takes to win a championship.
Q: Do you believe your late father is proud of you today?
A: I hope he’s proud of me. I tried to not only accept what he laid out, being back in the city that he spent four years in college and the rest of my family where my mother’s side is from, I’ve embraced that. And not only do I try to be a good football player, I try to be a good man. That means being a person in the community, a leader in the community. I want to make sure I do my part. My mom and dad were always big about giving back and helping out others, and I understand I’m in a blessed position to do that.
Q: What was it about your father that made you so proud of him?
A: It still makes me proud, because he left lasting imprints on people. I hear so many different stories — good and bad — but the fact that he could have a conversation with a kid at Children’s Hospital to a guy at the bar … everybody always, always talked about their experiences with Ironhead. And my dad had the biggest heart. He cared for so many people and he put 110 percent into anything he did.
Q: Describe your on-field mentality.
A: I’m gonna give you 110 percent. I’m one of those people that I’m not gonna settle for anything less from others, but for me, I have to play with a lot of energy and I have to set the tone.
Q: If you could pick the brain of any defensive linemen in NFL history, who would it be?
A: Well, I already get to do this a little bit, I get to talk to “Mean” Joe [Greene] every now and then. I think that’s the ultimate defensive lineman. Besides him, I would say Reggie White.
Q: What is the best piece of advice Mean Joe ever gave you?
A: Just to be violent with your hands. And it’s funny when he said it, because I remember when he shook my hand for the first time, his hand almost engulfed mine (laugh). That guy’s hands are massive. But there’s a level of violence you have to play when you play defensive line. And he was always big about being the disruptor and being able to affect the game.
Q: Who is one quarterback in NFL history you wish you could have sacked?
A: Surprisingly, I never got a chance to sack Peyton [Manning]. And I remember my dad played with Peyton Manning his rookie year. I got a chance to meet Peyton when I was younger, and again when I played in the league. That was probably one of the only ones I missed out on sacking.
Q: Why does Pittsburgh love Ben Roethlisberger right now?
A: Pittsburgh loves Ben Roethlisberger because for the past 18 years, this guy has given two Super Bowls, and given his body a beating trying to make sure he played for Pittsburgh. Not many people could sustain a career like he has, taking all the bumps and bruises and delivering those clutch two-minute drives at the end of a game. He’s one of those Steeler legends that just needs the ball in his hands.
Q: What makes T.J. Watt, T.J. Watt?
A: I think the thing that sticks out with T.J, his relentless moves and his relentless just effort. And his clutchness when it comes to being a complete player in those critical moments. A lot of times we’ve needed him on those third downs, or he gets a strip-sack at the most opportune time. When you have a guy like that that’s able to rise up to those occasions, it’s pretty special.
Q: What makes Mike Tomlin, Mike Tomlin?
A: His consistency in his message in the fact that he’s able to challenge players individually and collectively. He gets the most out of his group.
Q: Describe Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes.
A: Man, lightning. In he can make lightning happen on every single play. He’s one of these people who’s electric, and can throw the ball all over the field. They’re never really out of a game. It’s an 11-man job to stop a guy like that, and then still, 11 men can’t do the job.
Q: Describe former teammate Ryan Shazier.
A: A warrior.
Q: What was that moment like on the field when he suffered his spinal contusion four years ago?
A: It broke my heart. To see, really my brother, not able to get up, and laying there, it was one of those scenes I’ll never forget. But after that, to see him work, and tell me, “I’m gonna walk again,” was pretty special.
Q: Former Jets and now Buccaneers nose tackle Steve McLendon?
A: Underrated, but great locker room guy.
Q: Former Steelers linebacker James Harrison?
A: Powerful. That guy never missed a workout, I’ll say that. Unbelievable career, because no one had even heard of James Harrison, and to be, right now the Steelers’ all-time sack leader is one of the greatest things in the world. He’s got one of the greatest plays [100-yard pick-six in Super Bowl XLIII win over the Cardinals] in Super Bowl history.
Q: What was Antonio Brown like as a teammate?
A: You know, I didn’t have a lot of problems with Antonio Brown. It’s unfortunate the way it ended here in Pittsburgh. I would have loved for him to remain a Pittsburgh Steeler all those years ago.
Q: How about Le’Veon Bell?
A: Same thing. Those guys were great players for us. Won us a lot of games, and are Steeler greats because when they stepped on the field, there was probably nobody stopping those two.
Q: You’ve had asthma since childhood.
A: It’s something I’ve had to learn to deal with. Early on, my mom used to tell me, “Don’t be a hero.” It’s not anything to play with. I’m one of those guys who tends to push the boundaries and try to go hard always, but it’s about learning my body and understanding that I might need a break, or I need to take my inhaler before I go out there, or my nebulizer. As a kid I was hospitalized sometimes, but I’ve learned to deal with it and It’s not a crutch for me, it’s just something that I had to learn to play with.
Q: Describe your grandmother.
A: She’s awesome. She lives right in the city of Pittsburgh. She was a Steeler fan before I was a Steeler, and she’s been sending me Steeler stuff since I was a little kid. But she was a teacher here, and I love her to death.
Q: How good a basketball player were you?
A: I loved basketball growing up. I was gonna play in college [Ohio State] until we made it to the national championship my freshman year, and then I was exhausted after that, so I completely shut that down after that.
Q: What’s meant more to you: the Pro Bowl or the Walter Payton Man of the Year award?
A: Both have been two things I’ve strived for in this league. Pro Bowls are awesome. The really cool thing is the Walter Payton Man of the Year because what it stands for. It’s an award that represents a man that was great on the field, but even better off the field, and he cared about a lot of people. And I want to be able to say that for my career as well.
Q: How long do you want to play?
A: As long as my body stays healthy, and I’m able to play at a high level, I think I can play a lot longer.
Q: Three dinner guests?
A: LeBron [James], Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, my dad.
Q: Favorite movies?
A: “Heavyweights” with Ben Stiller, “Cinderella Man.”
Q: Favorite actor?
A: Adam Sandler.
Q: Favorite actress?
A: Emma Stone.
Q: Favorite singer/entertainer?
Q: Favorite meal?
Q: Why do Steelers fans travel so well?
A: In the ’00s, the Steelers were winning all those championships and you were either a Steelers fan or a Cowboy fan … or a Raider fan. But, man, Steeler fans are all over. It’s funny, we got nothing but road games left, and I just feel like Steelers fans relish these moments. They’re the best traveling fans, and they like to be loud everywhere they go.
Q: How pumped up is your 6-year-old son Callen for this game?
A: My son is ecstatic. I told him I play with Najee Harris. I showed him a picture of a Super Bowl trophy, he’s like, “You got a chance to win that?” I was like, “Yeah, but there’s a lot of work that goes behind it, and so you can’t overlook anybody.” My Don really likes Najee and likes the way he runs the ball, and I told him I know Najee and he got all excited (laugh).
Q: Tell me about Najee.
A: A complete running back. And I don’t just mean on the field. He’s a complete person. He is wise beyond his years. He’s gonna be a terror in this league for however long he wants to play. He’s got a good head on his shoulders, he runs the ball hard, catches the ball. There’s nothing that guy can’t do.
Q: What did you make of Roethlisberger saying, “We have no chance?”
A: I think he was referring to we’re perceived as having no chance. And the way we see it as, no one’s giving us a shot, but we’re gonna come ready to play.
Q: What would be your message to Steelers Nation?
A: Be loud. And we’re gonna give it all we got.