Sunday's Steelers-Falcons game held a special meaning for the Heyward family. Against the team of their late father Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, rookie Connor Heyward scored his first NFL touchdown and older brother Cam was his usual dominant self, sacking the Falcons' Marcus Mariota to set up the drive that ended in Connor's touchdown.
The Steelers won 19-16. For the Heyward brothers, the game meant much more than the final score.
Craig Heyward, a bruising fullback who played for the Saints, Bears, Rams and Colts as well as the Falcons, had the best season of his 11-year career in Atlanta in 1995. He was named to the Pro Bowl for a season in which he rushed for 1,083 yards and six touchdowns, and also totaled 350 yards receiving with two touchdowns. Heyward died in 2006 at the age of 39 from an inoperable brain tumor. He is buried in Gwinnett Memorial Park in Lawrenceville, Georgia, an Atlanta suburb.
After the game, Cam Heyward, wearing his father's old Falcons jersey, took to the podium and shared a brief story of how he and Connor visited their father's grave before the game.
"We got to share a moment with Dad, so I was pretty emotional when he got the touchdown," Cam Heyward said. "I don't like to be Mr. Soppy, but that really hit me. Luckily there wasn't a camera on me, because I was a mess."
Connor Heyward, a rookie out of Michigan State, scored on a 17-yard pass to put Pittsburgh up 13-3. Connor scored a touchdown the last time he played in Mercedes-Benz Stadium too, when Michigan State beat Pitt in the 2021 Peach Bowl last December.
In a bit of heartwarming synchronicity, Connor Heyward's first touchdown happened in almost the exact same way as his father's:
With the win, the young Steelers improved to 5-7, off the playoff pace but still better than several of their more experienced rivals.
Contact Jay Busbee at email@example.com or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.