Steel Curtain Member Dies

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Dwight White, a key player on the "Steel Curtain" defenses who became as successful off the football field as he had been on it, died Friday afternoon in a Pittsburgh hospital.
White, who leaves behind a wife and a daughter, would have turned 59 at the end of next month. The cause of the former Steeler's death, less than a month after he had back surgery, was not released. He died at 12:50 p.m. at UPMC Presbyterian.

News of White's passing shocked and saddened those who knew him. Joe Greene said he was "angry" at the loss of his teammate and close friend.

"I'm disappointed and hurt and angry," Greene said. "This is something that I don't think should have happened."

The Steelers released statements from team Chairman Dan Rooney and President Art Rooney II, but they provided few details about White's death because of his wife's request for privacy.
Greene said White had back surgery in the middle of May and that he talked to him a couple of days after the operation, though only briefly because White was still in so much pain.

About a week later, Greene said, he got a call from L.C. Greenwood, who started opposite White on the Steelers' defensive line in the 1970s. Greenwood told Greene that White had gone back into the hospital and had been placed in intensive care.

"He went in for back surgery, he comes out, then has to go back in -- and he didn't come out again," said Greene, who works for the Steelers' player personnel department. "I just need some answers. That's why I'm angry."

White is the second member of the original "Steel Curtain" front four to die this year; Ernie Holmes was killed in a car crash in Texas in January.

A fourth-round draft pick out of East Texas State (now Texas A&M-Commerce) in 1971, White played for the Steelers his entire career and retired after the 1980 season.

Though overshadowed at times on a defense that had four future Pro Football Hall of Famers, White wreaked the same havoc he had at East Texas State, where he was given the nickname "Mad Dog."

He finished his career with 46 sacks -- seventh on the Steelers' all-time list -- twice made the Pro Bowl and was selected to the Steelers' all-time team as part of the franchise's 75th anniversary celebration last year.

Dan Rooney called him "one of the greatest players to ever wear a Steelers uniform."

White's most memorable moment with the Steelers occurred at Super Bowl IX. He came down with pneumonia before the game and had to be hospitalized. The Steelers weren't going to play him, but he was released from the hospital the morning of the game. White sacked Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton for a safety midway through the second quarter, accounting for the first points in the Steelers' Super Bowl history.

After the Steelers had beaten the Vikings, 16-6, to win the first of what would be four Super Bowls in the '70s, White returned to the hospital.

Known for his intensity on the field, White had another side to him as well.

"When I think of Dwight White, I think about a guy who was a hard-nosed football player but had a great sense of humor," said former Steelers cornerback Mel Blount, who also won four Super Bowls with the Steelers. "Really funny guy, always kept the locker room loose and lively."

White worked as a stockbroker after retiring from football, and the Virginia native also became active in the community.

"He made the transition from football to private life as well as anyone I knew," Greene said.

White was involved with a number of charities, and he and his wife, Karen, helped the August Wilson Center for African American Culture raise almost $30 million for the construction of a facility.

In lieu of flowers, White's family has asked that donations in his memory be made to the August Wilson Center, 425 Sixth Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15219.

"I was always impressed with him as a human being," said Stephen S. Barrett, president of Blind & Vision Rehabilitation Services (BVRS) of Pittsburgh. "He didn't talk about being a member of the Steel Curtain. He was just an ordinary, friendly and very warm person."

White served on BVRS' board of directors, and Barrett said his work for the organization represented only a fraction of what White did for others.

"He used to tell me about the work he and other charities were doing with building affordable housing and neighborhood redevelopment," Barrett said. "He just had a lot of interests in the community."

White lived in O'Hara, and in addition to his wife, he is survived by a daughter, Stacey.

His funeral has been scheduled for Wednesday at Calvary Episcopal Church in Shadyside.

"He was a guy that whatever he did, he was going to try and be the best and give it his all, and he did that," Blount said. "He's a friend, and he's a guy I admired. I am really saddened by his death."