Alex Webster, a bruising football player at NC State who went on to a stellar career as a fullback and coach for the New York Giants, died Saturday in Port St. Lucie, Fla. He was 80.
Webster was known as “Big Red” primarily because of his reddish hair, but he was also a big man who wore down opponents. At NC State, Webster played single-wing tailback, returned kicks and played in the secondary on defense for what was then known as State College. Webster still has the fifth longest punt return in school history — 86 yards against Wake Forest in 1951.
“He was a very good, very tough football player,” one of his teammates, Leon Simon, told gopack.com in 2010.
Webster, from Kearny, N.J., played at NC State from 1949-53, an era very different from today’s big stadiums, expansive locker rooms and state-of-the-art training facilities. Webster played at Riddick Stadium, where many players had rooms beneath the stands. Players wore leather helmets without face masks.
“I suffered a broken nose six times; it was just part of the game back then,” Webster told gopack.com. He said he didn’t get a face mask until his third year in the pros.
Only one of the four teams Webster played on at NC State had a winning record. Team stats were not kept during his first two seasons, but Webster rushed for 634 yards in 1951 and 459 yards in 1952.
Despite not being named an All-American or all-conference player, Webster was drafted by the Washington Redskins. After being cut by the Redskins, Webster played for two years in what was then known as Canada’s Big Four Football Union (including one in which he led the league in rushing and scoring) before signing with the New York Giants.
Webster rushed for 928 yards in 1961 and 743 yards in 1962 as a fullback for the Giants. He ran for 4,638 yards and 39 touchdowns during a 10-year career that included one NFL championship and two selections to the Pro Bowl. Webster’s rushing statistics still rank in the top five all-time for the Giants, according to The New York Times.
“He was so strong at 230-plus pounds that it was impossible to arm-tackle him,” former Giants star Frank Gifford noted in his memoir. “People either bounced off him or he ran over them. Every time he got the ball, he turned into a grinding machine.”
After his playing days, Webster worked as an assistant coach for the Giants for two years before becoming the team’s head coach in 1969. He was named National Football Conference coach of the year in 1970. Webster was inducted into the Giants’ Ring of Honor last year.
“Great days, and great teams,” Webster told The News & Observer in 1981.
Webster resigned in 1973 when the Giants finished with one of the worst records in the NFL. “I’ve always been a winner,” Webster said at the time. “When you pull the pieces together like we thought we had this year, when you think you have something, it’s tough to accept losing.”
Webster fondly recalled his four years at NC State, where he met his wife, Louise, who died in 2010. When a reporter for The N&O caught up with Webster in 1981, after his playing and coaching days were over, Webster used the occasion to check on the Wolfpack.
“Hey, tell me about NC State,” he said. “I hear that the Pack’s undefeated. How do they look?”
Webster is survived by his daughter, Debbie Moberg of Point Pleasant, N.J.; his son, James Webster of Hobe Sound, Fla.; his brother, James Webster of Grand Rapids, Mich.; four grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
Memorial contributions may be made to Harbor Place, 3700 SE Jennings Road, Port St. Lucie, Fla., 34952.
Visitation will be on Wednesday, March 7, from 10-11 a.m. in the chapel of Martin Funeral Home, Stuart, Fla., with a Celebration Service to begin at 11 a.m.