The former Bronco, Brown and Raider once promised to behead Redskins Quarterback Joe Theismann prior to Super Bowl XVIII.
We are in the midst of the Spring doldrums of Football offseason. The Combine is over and the Draft is still a few weeks away. Free Agency has stalled and the only thing really going on, is those never ending Mocks. As one born without the knowledge of foresight, Mocking the Draft isn’t really one of my fortes. There are plenty of prospects to like in this draft and I rest assured that John Elway will deliver another good crop for us to dissect. Anyway, while rummaging through my database, I came across a story I’ve been wanting to do. It just so happens, today is the perfect time for it.
Today, former Broncos Defensive Lineman Lyle Alzado, would have been 64 years old. He passed away on May 14th, 1992 at the age of 43 from a brain tumor as the result of heavy use of anabolic steroids and Human Growth Hormone.
Lyle was born on April 3, 1949 in Brooklyn, N.Y. At the age of 10, his family relocated to Long Island. On the field, Alzado was an aggressive defensive lineman at Lawrence High School, but he was no star. When he graduated, there were no scholarship offers waiting for the undersized Lyle. He enrolled at Kilgore Junior College in Texas, but left after being told he wasn’t good enough for their football team in 1967. Alzado ended up in tiny Yankton college, an NAIA school in South Dakota. It was there that Lyle began experimenting with the muscle-building drugs and never stopped.
Alzado said he spent 4-6 hours daily in the weight room, going from 195 pounds as a freshman at Yankton to 245 as a sophomore, 280 as a junior and 300 as a senior.
However, it wasn’t just the steroids that got him into the NFL. A little luck was involved.
In 1970, a Broncos assistant coach had car trouble in Montana and decided to pass the time by watching Montana Tech on film. The opponent was Yankton, and Alzado stood out enough that Denver selected him in the 4th round (79th overall) during the 1971 draft.
When the Broncos starting Right Defensive End Pete Duranko was injured in 1971, Alzado took over the job as a rookie and soon emerged as a feared member of the defense.
“My first year with the Broncos, I was like a maniac,” Alzado said. “All along I was taking steroids and I saw that they made me play better and better.”
In 1972, Alzado led the Broncos in Sacks (10.5) and Tackles (91). Two years later, he had a team record 13 Sacks. In 1977, Alzado was named AFC Defensive Lineman of the Year as the Broncos made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history after a 12-2 regular season. They won the AFC West and reached the Super Bowl before falling to the Dallas Cowboys, 27-10. The following year, Denver finished the season 10-6, repeating as division champions, but they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs.
Prior to the 1979 season, after making the Pro Bowl for the second consecutive year and leading the team in Sacks in five of the previous seven seasons – Alzado and the Broncos had a contract dispute. He pondered becoming a pro boxer and in July 1979, went eight rounds with heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali in an exhibition at Mile High Stadium in what some saw as a publicity stunt. A month later, Alzado walked out of Training Camp and the Broncos responded by trading him to Cleveland for draft picks.
Lyle played three seasons with the Browns and registered 16.5 Sacks for them. In 1982, he moved on to the Los Angeles Raiders, and thrived under legendary owner Al Davis. In 1983, he led the team with seven Sacks in the strike-shortened season and was named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year. He then got another 2½ Sacks in the Raiders’ 38-10 rout of Pittsburgh in the divisional playoffs. The Raiders advanced to the Super Bowl, where Alzado promised to behead Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann. That didn’t happen, but he got a Super Bowl ring with the Raiders’ 38-9 victory.
The 6-foot-3, 254-pound Alzado played 15 seasons at Defensive End and Tackle for the Denver Broncos, Cleveland Browns and Los Angeles Raiders. His speed (4.75 in the 40-yard dash) and strength along with his versatility made him a feared pass rusher. He was twice named All-Pro and compiled 97 sacks in 196 games.
A violent, combative player known for his short temper, Alzado was most comfortable with the renegade Raiders of the 1980s, helping them beat Washington in Super Bowl XVIII. But he also starred for Denver’s “Orange Crush” defense of the 1970s, compiling 64½ sacks.
Lyle was one of the fiercest competitors the NFL has ever seen. In fact, due to Alzado throwing an opponent’s helmet across the field, the league instituted a rule specifically banning the act.
“I was so wild about winning,” Alzado said. “It’s all I cared about – winning, winning. I never talked about anything else.”
At the height of his steroid and human growth hormone abuse, Alzado estimated he spent $30,000 a year on the drugs, often buying them at gyms around the country.
The steroids caused violent mood swings in Lyle and he would erupt at the drop of a hat. He suffered through 4 failed marriages and was accused of battery on a female police officer. He even threw a chair at a reporter and said his only regret was that he missed hitting him.
A teammate of his on the Raiders, Defensive end Greg Townsend disputed that Alzado’s Wild Man image denoted only a part of a split personality. “Off the field, he was the gentle giant. So caring, so warm, so giving.”
Lyle’s brother Peter Alzado, said, “That violence that you saw on the field was not real stuff. Lyle used football as a way of expressing his anger at the world and at the way he grew up.”
He recounted his steroid abuse in an article in Sports Illustrated,
“I started taking anabolic steroids in 1969 and never stopped. It was addicting, mentally addicting. Now I’m sick, and I’m scared. 90% of the athletes I know are on the stuff. We’re not born to be 300 lbs. or jump 30 feet. But all the time I was taking steroids, I knew they were making me play better. I became very violent on the field and off it. I did things only crazy people do. Once a guy sideswiped my car and I beat the hell out of him. Now look at me. My hair’s gone, I wobble when I walk and have to hold on to someone for support, and I have trouble remembering things. My last wish? That no one else ever dies this way.”
Hopefully no one will. The league and the players agreed to an HgH testing program, but as yet haven’t established the parameters. It’s been a long time since 1993 and ten years is more than enough to have had this issue under control. To me, this is more important than the Concussion issue. Even though both should have been handled over a decade ago.
By today’s standards, Lyle was more the size of a 3-4 Outside Linebacker. At 253 lbs. he was getting Linebacker numbers; 80-90 Tackles and 6-10 Sacks per season. But he accomplished that as a Defensive Lineman. Put it this way, Randy Gradishar (who belongs in the Hall of Fame) was getting 200 Tackles in a season as the main guy on Defense. Defensive Coordinator Joe Collier’s scheme funneled the action towards Gradishar, and still, Alzado was putting up great numbers. You look at how many Defensive Lineman in today’s era put up even 60 Tackles a year. Those guys get free trips to Hawaii at the end of the season.
I remember Lyle Alzado as a member of all three teams and even though he ended up on the Hated Raiders, he was a Denver Bronco and a part of the famed “Orange Crush” Defense first. He was mean, wild and unpredictable, which caused the belief that the Broncos could overcome any obstacle through sheer will. The “Mile High Mystique” was in it’s infancy at the time and Lyle Alzado was a component of that aura and era.
—– Kaptain Kirk