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High School Sports

Webster's play inspired hours after saying goodbye to dad

Kevin Gorman
| Saturday, Sept. 28, 2002

Garrett Webster wore his father's number on his jersey, had his spirit in his heart and felt his presence on the first play of the fourth quarter of a game played only hours after Mike Webster was eulogized.

Garrett Webster, a 6-foot-8, 330-pound senior defensive tackle, whirled Ambridge quarterback Riley Wallace around and slammed him to the muddy field for a sack and a 5-yard loss.

It was a relatively inconsequential play in the Tigers' 42-8 victory over Ambridge on Friday night at Moon Stadium, but one that came across as a revelation: His dad, Hall of Fame center Mike Webster, was gone for good.

“It just hit me that I'm not going to have somebody at the door to say, ‘Good sack, buddy,' ” said Garrett, who stood idle on the sidelines afterward, his chest heaving and his helmet cast downward. “I was just shook up a little.”

Garrett, wearing No. 52 like his father did for the Super Steelers, buried his father Friday morning and played football in his dad's honor that night. He was the third WPIAL football player to lose a parent and play in a game in the same the week this season, and the most famous.

Hopewell senior defensive back Matt McCrory lost his mother, Tammy, 43, to cancer on Aug. 29. The next night, Matt played in the Vikings' 34-15 win over North Hills. Bethel Park senior lineman D.J. Garfolo lost his father, John, 54, to a brain stroke Sept. 8, the Sunday before the Black Hawks' 30-12 win over Seneca Valley.

“My dad would never let him not play for any reason,” Brooke Webster, 25, of Lodi, Wis., said of her brother. “Garrett has been amazing through all of this. I'm really proud of him.”

The Moon community rallied around the Websters. The school's booster club paid for food for the family. Captains Bill Ashburn, Rick Derenda and A.Q. Shipley accompanied Moon coach Mark Capuano and his staff to Joseph M. Somma Funeral Home earlier Friday for funeral services.

Garrett, wearing a black-and-gold patch with No. 52 on his left shoulder and words memorializing his father on his taped wrists, led the team on pre-game laps around the field. He also was one of the game's captains.

“He's been preparing himself for the fame,” said Fred Shaheen, a close friend of Mike Webster's. “Mike would never sign No. 52 on autographs, even when people would request it. He said, ‘That's reserved for my son.' ”

At 7:17 p.m., with the Moon football team still in the locker room, the public address announcer asked for a moment of silence in honor of Mike Webster as the Coraopolis VFW presented the colors before the national anthem.

“It's helped a lot, actually,” Brooke Webster said of Garrett's playing on the day of his dad's funeral. “We're just trying to do what our dad would want. To have someone carry our dad's name in football is wonderful.”

Steelers Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris came to the game and stood on the sidelines as a show of support to his fallen teammate and his family. He was impressed with Garrett's decision to play.

“You think about it – his lost his dad – and to come out and play is amazing,” Harris said. “I'm sure his dad is looking down and is happy to see his son playing football. That's what he would have wanted.”

Garrett echoed those words afterward while undressing from his muddy uniform and reflecting on the conflicting emotions of losing his dad and winning a game on the same day.

“I said my last goodbyes to my dad,” Garrett said. “It was a celebration, but it was emotional.”

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