"Small Schools and Lyle Alzado"



Small Schools and Lyle Alzado, Part Two


By Dr. Ken


Last month’s column received a great deal of response, in part I’m sure because Lyle Alzado was both a popular and polarizing figure in professional football and sports. Much of the response was local as might be expected, as Lyle was known personally and certainly by reputation, by most of his contemporaries in our area. One of the old timers, a former police officer in the Fourth Precinct related a poignant yet revealing story, telling me that while on patrol one evening, he was on his beat and “…drove by a toddler in diapers, alone on West Broadway. I took the baby and went door to door to find his home, and eventually I succeeded. It turned out the baby belonged to the guy who ran the cock fights.  Of course, the baby was Lyle Alzado.” The footnote to this was the comment made by Lyle’s father, Maurice “Pat” Alzado to the officer when informed that he had found his son, in diapers, crawling on the sidewalk along a busy thoroughfare. The father shrugged and merely replied, “Oh, he does that all the time.” In addition to running a very well organized cockfighting operation, Lyle’s father also owned a local bar that served alcoholic beverages to what seemed like anyone at least thirteen years of age as long as the minor child entered without a supervising adult! Lyle could thank the other members of his immediate family for the support he received and a very talented group of friends because it came from those individuals that he learned the possibility of “overcoming” through hard work.

Unfortunately, one of the lessons he used to teach young athletes has been lost amid the revelation and admission of his anabolic steroid use. Lyle was clear in espousing the necessity of hard work and with or without the use of anabolic drugs, few worked harder in order to succeed at his life’s dream. Though my relationship with Lyle was lengthy, he was not part of the group of fellows that I was regularly with, nor was I a part of his inner group. An age difference of two or three years means little in adulthood but in high school and immediately afterward, it is in many if not most cases, a rather broad schism. Not surprisingly, while Lyle was emphasizing weight training, running behind the sanitation truck while wearing ankle and wrist weights to make the chore more difficult, and striving to be a great college and then professional football player, so was his best friend Marc Lyons. Ira Gordon, Larry Schepps, and the late George Mayweather formed the “usual group” that Lyle was associated with, and at one time or another, all lifted, ran, and socialized together but Lyons more than the others, may have been closer than anyone to him. Lyons in his own right was extremely successful, first as a football player at Western Connecticut State University and then as a high school football coach in Connecticut.

Lyle wearing a Riddell TK helmet with Dungard 140 “Pro Line” mask his rookie season with the Denver Broncos

Our group of “older guys” would help Lyle as much as possible in his quest to get bigger and stronger. His dedication was such that while most of us were following the standard “lifter’s nutritional practice of the day” by consuming one pound of Blair's protein powder per week, Lyle was mixing his entire four pound container in combinations of milk and heavy cream each and every week over the summer. When he did not have the money to pay for it, we would either take up a collection or gym owner Tony Pandolfo, a truly big time physique competitor and big-hearted person would look the other way when payment was due. I mentioned that Lyle was one of the few football players in the annals of collegiate ball to gain thirty pounds in-season, during his initial season of college play. Having regular meals for the first time certainly contributed to that as did his incessant presence in the small, archaic weight room that Yankton College had.


Lyle’s TK helmet with aluminum Dungard “Pro Line” mask as he wore in 1971, his rookie season with the Denver Broncos

Before his anabolic drug use, he did it the old fashioned way and he was consistent in his hard work and eating twelve months out of the year. Typical and typical of a number of things about Lyle, was the evening he attempted to “crash” a party in a wealthy neighborhood. At the age of fifteen I was already working for a private investigator repossessing cars. Obviously too young to legally drive, this did not prevent my rather successful employment record with this friend of my father’s who used me to quietly approach, break into, and then drive away in an automobile whose ownership had reverted to the bank. I “graduated” to bouncing at a local Long Beach bar and at a nightclub managed by my father despite tipping the scales at only 150 pounds while still a high school senior. I parlayed my ability to smooth things out with conversation, an ability quickly learned when confronting angry individuals who objected to having their vehicle taken from them while they often waved a dangerous weapon in my direction, with a willingness to scrap with grown men who outweighed me by one hundred pounds or more into a number of well paying gigs that augmented my income. As a high school student I would at times “hire out” as security and prevent individuals like Lyle who even as a tenth grader was feared throughout the entire area, from entering the private parties held in the wealthiest neighborhood in our part of Long Island.

Lyle Alzado and the author as young lifting guys

Amidst the catered food, girls who would never otherwise acknowledge our existence, and boys who drove cars worth more than the houses we lived in, there would be the attempted “invasion” of a group of guys “from the other side of the tracks” and often, these were the athletes I played ball with and/or the hoodlums I had grown up with or served as sparring partners to at the Police Athletic League. So it was with Lyle and his group of friends and of course, between the panic of some of the boys inside of the house who feared being assaulted, and the girls who felt that they might be forced to dance with the Barbarians once they breached the door, it was up to me to prevent any carnage. After brief conversation outlining that I was being paid to prevent guys like Lyle and Mayweather from entering the party, there was more laughter than harsh words among us as we knew each other well and came to a mutually satisfying resolution. “What is it you really want because you’re not here to have a good time, not with these stiffs?” In short, they had heard about the party, knew the food would be good, needed to eat, and figured that on the way to a better party and what turned out to be a massive and epic brawl in the bordering town of Lynbrook later that evening, they would crash this party, take as much food as possible, and be on their way.

“Fellows, this is easy” I said and brought out two full trays of restaurant prepared and rather oversized roast beef and turkey sandwiches, perhaps totaling four or five sandwiches for each of them. Violence, mayhem, and trouble were the last things on anyone’s mind, food was the driving force and this in many ways was typical yet branded Lyle and his group of friends as “bad kids.” It should not be ignored that Lyle could be exceedingly belligerent. Sensitive to the needs of children and perhaps seeing many of his own disadvantages in children with disabilities or circumstances to overcome, he earned his “Three Mile Lyle” and “Sybil” nicknames with what could be termed explosive and unpredictable behavior. The dichotomy of being a “good guy” while living up to his reputation as someone not to be messed with can be summarized in a tale that took place not long after the Raiders Super Bowl victory that found NFL Films cameras focused on Lyle’s tear-filled face, his dream finally realized. My wife Kathy received a phone call from Lyle’s wife, notifying her that the Alzados would be in town to visit and we all met for breakfast at a local diner. Throughout the entire meal, Kathy was impressed that Lyle so willingly interrupted his meal in order to meet the never-ending demand for autograph requests, conversation, or those who just wanted to wish him well. While complimenting him on being “so nice and accommodating to everyone” she was interrupted by Lyle’s wife who informed us that upon pulling into the parking lot, “someone took what Lyle figured was his parking space.” Overruling Lyle’s objections to cease the telling of the story, she gave a detailed and rather sarcastic and humorous account how “the nice and accommodating Lyle” as she called her husband a number of times, dragged some poor guy through the driver’s side window of his car before insisting that he then pull out of that specific space.

Lyle had been recruited by Purdue thanks to the superlative playing career and the established reputation as being one of the “finest gentleman and young men to ever play at Purdue” as one of the long-employed secretaries had told me in the early 1980’s, of Sal Ciampi who was perhaps the greatest player to attend our high school.

Purdue guard Sal Ciampi, Long Island and Lawrence H.S. All Time Great who later became one of the all time great football and baseball coaches in the history of New York State

Purdue and other big time programs looked and then walked away unimpressed or perhaps unwilling to take on what they believed to be a problem player. If not for the “small college” division that regularly held a place for marginal players needing time to physically or emotionally mature, many successful professional and/or personal careers would never have flourished. Lyle in many ways, proved to be a positive force in whatever community he served through his work with charitable organizations that protected or assisted youth in need and his son Justin later did much to carry an anti-steroid message to other young athletes. The current divisional designations, scholarship restrictions, Title Nine induced “100 Rule” enforced at many Division III colleges, and the economic pressures faced by these schools has made it much more difficult for the Lyle Alzados to fulfill their potential. For those of us who recall the excitement of small college ball and know that the quality of the lesser divisions is now below what it was in the 1960’s, it is yet another loss from the past.