Steel Curtain's 'Mad Dog' dies

Dwight White shook off pneumonia to star in Super Bowl IX

Joe Greene remembered Dwight White as a person who could always make him laugh. Mike Wagner remembered him for the time he came out of the hospital bed, stricken with pneumonia, to play in Super Bowl IX. Jack Ham recalled the way he was always yapping at and agitating offensive lineman with that high-pitched voice, one of the reasons he was called "Mad Dog."

"You talk about a guy who set the tone for trash-talking," said Mr. Ham, a Hall of Fame linebacker. "He had to be in great condition because, besides playing for 60 minutes, he talked a great game for 60 minutes."

"His motor was high-rev," said Mr. Wagner, a former teammate and safety. "As hard as he played, his mouth worked even harder. He always amazed me he had so much energy."

Mr. White, a defensive end who fit in with the other colorful characters in the famed Steel Curtain defense that helped produce four Super Bowl championships during the 1970s, died yesterday at the age of 58. The news shocked many of his teammates who remembered Mr. White for his youthful exuberance and emotional spirit during his 10-year playing career with the Steelers.

According to Mr. Greene, a Hall of Fame defensive tackle, Mr. White had back surgery May 12, then was hospitalized a couple weeks later with a blood clot in his lung. Mr. Greene said his former teammate had shown signs of improvement before his health declined.

"Dwight always found a way to make you laugh, you know," said Mr. Greene, who was Mr. White's roommate on the road. "Underneath all that was a serious person, but he could fill up a room for sure. He lived in Dallas for a short period of time. I'd visit him and he'd visit me. He was like a little brother."

Mr. White played with the Steelers from 1971 to 1980 after being a fourth-round draft choice from East Texas State and ranks seventh on the team's all-time list with 46 career sacks.

However, he is best known for his performance in the team's first Super Bowl victory when he played against the Minnesota Vikings despite being hospitalized nearly the entire week with pneumonia. But Mr. White did more than just play: He was credited with a safety when he tackled Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton in the end zone after a fumbled handoff, giving the Steelers a 2-0 lead en route to a 16-6 victory

"He looked like he came out of a concentration camp with that pneumonia," Mr. Ham said. "You talk about everybody rallying around something. I could not believe he played that game. That was a phenomenal thing. He had such a resolve. I don't know how he did it."

The following year, Mr. White had three of the Steelers seven sacks against Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach in Super Bowl X, helping to lead his team to back-to-back championships.

"Dwight was going to make life miserable for anybody who didn't have our jersey on," Mr. Wagner said. "That's the way he played football."

"Dwight White was one of the greatest players to ever wear a Steelers uniform," said Steelers chairman Dan Rooney. "He played with a relentlessness that led us to four Super Bowl titles in the 1970s. Dwight refused to be denied."

Mr. White's death comes five months after the death of defensive tackle Ernie Holmes, who played alongside Mr. White in what many consider one of the greatest front fours in the National Football League. But they were not only good, they were animated, each with a nickname that only enhanced their reputation -- Mad Dog, Fats, Mean Joe and Hollywood Bags (L.C. Greenwood).

"I'm just kind of shocked," said Mr. Greenwood. "We were all very close. We weren't just teammates, we were very close friends."

Mr. White served as senior managing director of public finance for Mesirow Financial in Pittsburgh and was involved with numerous charities, including the Salvation Army, Goodwill Industries, the Boy Scouts of America, PACE School and Rebuilding Pittsburgh. He was also a member of the board of trustees for Seton Hill University and was a board member of the Blind & Vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh, a non-profit agency that serves people with vision loss.

In addition, Mr. White, a Democrat, had campaigned for Gov. Ed Rendell and served as chairman of the Governor's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.

"Dwight was not only a world-class athlete, he was a thoughtful and outspoken individual who cared deeply about his family, his community, and his state," Mr. Rendell said in a statement. "His NFL nickname, Mad Dog, belied the fact that he was a true gentleman and an accomplished business leader."

Mr. White and his wife Karen, as co-chairs of a fund raising campaign, had been extremely instrumental in raising more than $28 million for the construction of the new August Wilson Center for African American Culture, said Neil Barclay, president and CEO of the center.

"Dwight's enthusiasm, dedication and commitment played an integral role in the success of the center. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this very difficult time," Mr. Barclay said.

In addition to his wife Karen, Mr. White is also survived by a daughter, Stacey. Funeral services are scheduled for noon Wednesday at Calvary Episcopal Church, 315 Shady Avenue, Pittsburgh.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations in Mr. White's memory be sent to The August Wilson Center of African American Culture at 425 Sixth Avenue, Suite 1750, Pittsburgh, 15219.

Post-Gazette sports writer Ed Bouchette contributed to this report. First Published June 7, 2008 4:00 AM


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