Wednesday, February 02, 2011

But, Ironhead....

For such an imposing figure with a tough guy reputation and one of the all time greatest NFL nicknames, the late Craig "Ironhead" Heyward had one of the most mediocre 11 year careers a running back could have had in the NFL (4,301 rushing yards, 4.2 ypc, 30 TDs, 1 Pro Bowl). He was basically Jerome Bettis with the numbers of Tyrone Wheatley (his most similar player according to Pro-Football Reference). Try as I might he has never come up as the answer on a single NFL related Sporcle quiz (maybe one day when someone makes a Falcons running backs of the mid 90s quiz). His fan made Youtube "highlight" reel runs barely past a minute and although there are plenty of NES Tecmo Super Bowl clips of contemporary RBs like Bo Jackson and Christian Okoye dominating defenses, the only such clip I could find of Ironhead was him dutifully eating clock for nearly 2 quarters.

While it is quite obvious that Ironhead Heyward was more reputation than actual performance, it is that same tough guy reputation that is actually responsible for, what I think is, his greatest legacy. Perhaps some of the younger folks haven't been around long enough to recall (I even I was pretty young then) but there was a time up to the late 90s in the pre-Axe Body Wash, Queer Eye, metrosexual world where the concept of a man using a body wash was a foreign and strange notion. Nowadays, bath sponges hanging freely and body wash containers lie throughout male inhabited showers all across America but this humbling of the mighty bar that once dominated the showers didn't happen overnight, it took the concentrated efforts of marketers and manufacturers.

At the forefront of this shower room sea change was Zest Body Wash who in an effort to dispel the image of body washes being dainty and unmanly went to a pitchman whose public image was the complete antithesis, enter Ironhead. Anyone who watched a decent amount of TV in the mid to late 90s remembers the ubiquitous series of spots (I remember they were on all the time during wrestling) where an angry, towel draped, pre-shower, Ironhead challenged the viewer to put aside all their preconceptions and try a round with Zest, aggressively attacking any reservations in the viewers' minds ("What's with this thingy?") of bathing with a body wash. The message was clear, if Zest Body Wash provided a better clean and was macho enough for surly NFL power backs when it was good enough for the average guy. This approach, along with Axe's well documented "this body wash will literally make women insane for you" advertising contributions essentially created the men's body wash market we know today. Interestingly Old Spice Body Wash's current campaign follows the exact blueprint of the old Zest ads (former/current NFL players in the shower aggressively asserting the manly effectiveness of their product) with a slightly surrealist bent.

So while it's highly unlikely that Ironhead Heyward will get that bust in Canton, if they ever make some sort of crazy pitchman Hall of Fame, his contributions in the field of personal hygiene product marketing would guarantee him a place right next to the Hathaway Shirt Man and Dos Equis Guy.

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