In many ways, Lyle Alzado embodies the Raiders better than anyone. He was an unapologetic rebel to his core. He played football not for fun, but rather to unleash violence in its purest form.
Born to be a Raider
The late Al Davis saw Alzado had fight in him and he knew he was born to join the Raiders. He was the embodiment of the rebellious spirit, carrying the autumn wind with him years before he donned the Silver and Black. Like the Raiders, he was bigger than just his play. His name went beyond the field, whether it was fighting the greatest boxer of all time, acting in movies, or becoming a lightning rod of criticism for his steroid use.
Davis made a trade with the Cleveland Browns for Alzado in 1982. In three seasons with the Raiders, Alzado compiled 23 sacks and won Super Bowl XVIII in 1983. Nevertheless, he was so much more than stats. Numbers were secondary to him, Alzado’s pure aggression brought elevated the entire defense.
In the Super Bowl, he helped the Raiders hold the Washington Redskins and quarterback Joe Theismann to just nine points. In his career, Alzado made the All-Rookie team, was a two-time All-Pro, two-time Pro Bowler, and 1982 Comeback Player of the Year. Alzado leaves behind a complicated and controversial legacy that is as rich as any Raider that ever put on a helmet for the team.
“This Game Isn’t Fun. This Game is a War”
Alzado didn’t play for fun. He played to embarrass his opponents. He wanted to keep them up the night before the game thinking about having to see him. It was a war, and he was going to use every tool he had to win – whether it was brute force, steroids, intimidation, or straight up using a helmet as a weapon.
Alzado actually has a rule named after him, stemming from the 1982 Divisional playoff game against New York. He ripped off a Jets player’s helmet and tossed it at him. The following season, “The Lyle Alzado Rule” banned said act. Outbursts like that were routine for him, who frequently had to be held back by teammates after plays were over. It wasn’t even just on the field either. Alzado even publicly threatened to decapitate Theismann before their Super Bowl matchup.
Alzado was who he was. He was one of the first NFL players to come out and admit that he used steroids his entire time in the NFL. Why, because that was the Raider way – Just Win Baby – by any means.
Alzado’s admittance of his steroid use put a dark cloud over his legacy for a time. People questioned the legitimacy of his accolades even though he expressed regret over his steroid use at the end of his life.
Alzado knew he would be a target when he came out with the bombshell news. He didn’t care; he’d always been a target. Just like the Raiders and their combative owner. Despite only playing less than a quarter of his career for the Raiders, Alzado fit right in, as if it was destined to happen.
No Silver Spoons
Alzado always played with a chip on his shoulder. He wasn’t recruited out of high school, so he went to junior college. He was kicked off the team and ended up playing at an obscure NAIA college. The only reason he was noticed was because one of the Broncos scout’s car broke down. ‘The scout would pass the time watching film of the local schools in the area while he waited for it to be fixed.
The Broncos selected Alzado in the fourth round in the 1971 draft, and Alzado came on strong as a rookie. Making it a point to “outanything” his teammates. He consistently led the team in sacks but was never without controversy. It culminated in a contract dispute and him ultimately walking out and then being traded to the Browns.
Alzado had a few solid yet uneventful years in Cleveland. Like Mohammed Ali when the two fought, many thought Alzado’s best days were behind him.
“I Never Knew a Man I Didn’t Want to Fight”
Alzado bragged that he had been getting into fights since he was a boy. His father was an abusive alcoholic, so he took it upon himself to defend his siblings from him. Even outside of his home he constantly got into fights. For him, football was a place to unleash his pent-up aggression without “being put away forever.”
Alzado took fighting to another level. He reportedly flirted with the idea of leaving football to become a professional boxer before actually getting in the ring with Ali for an exhibition match.
Ali echoed what most of the world felt – that the fight was a joke. That Alzado, a football player, had no chance, even if Ali was well past his prime. However, Alzado truly believed he had a chance. He wanted to come out as an underdog. Just like when he signed with the Raiders.
Even though football is a violent game, it’s one of coordinated brutality. A game where a bunch of guys put on pads and try to knock each other out. To Alzado, it was beautiful. Alzado retired from the NFL in 1985, citing nagging injuries. Yet, he attempted a comeback, at the age of 40, stating he “missed the violence.” He didn’t even make it through training camp before his knee gave out. Two years later, he was dead, victim of a brain tumor.
Howie Long recalls one thing that got his attention about Alzado after the Raiders sealed their victory in the Super Bowl.
I looked over and I see Lyle Alzado, this guy who was so volatile and so tough, and he was weeping like a baby and dancing on the sideline. It hit me how significant that moment was for him.
When questioned Alzado admitted to being swept away by the beauty of the moment. He was more than a brute who put on shoulder pads and a helmet to clobber players on the turf. His teammates noted he had a soft side to him which could make them do a double-take. He loved children and did a ton of community service work for them.
Alzado was a complicated man, but we all know and love him most as a Raider.
You May Also Like: Raiders Greats Will Be Enshrined at Allegiant Stadium
Top Photo: Associated Press