Lyle Alzado Remembered, by Dean Nazaru McCray
Twenty years ago this month, Lyle Alzado, a behemoth NFL defensive lineman who played for the Denver Broncos, Cleveland Browns and the Oakland Raiders during their renegade era, died after a lengthy battle with brain cancer at the relatively youthful age of 43.
Drafted in the 4th round of the 1971 NFL draft by the Denver Broncos with the 71st pick, Lyle Alzado went on to become an intricate part of some of the most dominating defenses in the history of the league.
At 6’3” and 255 pounds which at that time was a monstrous size and possessing a nasty demeanor that bordered on the edge of vicious at times, Lyle Alzado was an offensive coordinator’s worst nightmare and required constant attention and double teaming in order to attempt to minimize the chaos that he could meet out.
Lyle Alzado’s outstanding 14 year career was highlighted by one Superbowl championship, two Pro Bowl selections, three All Pro awards and a NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award in 1982. After a five year retirement beginning in 1985, Lyle Alzado attempted to make a comeback to the game that he loved in 1990 but his comeback was shortened by a knee injury during training camp and he never played another down.
Outside of football, Lyle Alzado tried his hand at many endeavors including a brief stint as an analyst with ESPN, several cameo appearances in television and movies and even a 1979 amateur boxing match with Muhammad Ali himself. Sadly, Lyle Alzado is best known for his well publicized violent temper on and off the field that has been attributed to everything from his tough upbringing on the streets of Brooklyn New York, an absentee father beset with alcoholism and 20 years of rampant steroid abuse.
According to friend and teammate Greg Townsend, Lyle Alzado’s legendary fits of anger on the field including the infamous helmet throwing incident which compelled the league to legislate rules banning such behavior, were simply an effort on Lyle Alzado’s part to express his anger at the way in which he was raised. Greg Townsend contends that off the field Lyle Alzado was a gentle giant and a very caring and kind man. Lending credence to Greg Townsends assertion as to the real Lyle Alzado is the fact that during his courageous fight against the disease to which he would eventually succumb, he became a very vocal spokesperson against the use of anabolic steroids that he attributed to causing the disease with which he was suffering.
According to a Sports Illustrated interview, Lyle Alzado admitted to abusing Anabolic Steroids as early as 1969 and never stopped throughout his career. He stated that it was extremely addictive and that 90 percent of athletes were using them. Tragically, in the end this once mighty man was reduced to an emaciated, balding figure that could barely walk or stand on his own.
Although a far cry from the menacing hulk that he had once been, he was fortunately able to warn many a youthful athlete of the dangers of anabolic steroid use before his demise and voice his heartfelt desire that no one else suffer and die the slow and agonizing death that he was enduring. Hopefully his words of admonishment did not fall upon deaf ears. May he rest in peace.
Lyle Alzado: April 3, 1949 – May 14, 1992.
Dean Nazaru McCray
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