BIGPLAY’s NFL 100: 100 Personalities From the NFL’s First 100 Years: #8 Lyle Alzado

The complicated life of Lyle Alzado

Photo Courtesy of Codey Dauch, BIGPLAY

Lyle Alzado was a larger than life player who played for the Denver Broncos, Cleveland Browns and the Los Angeles Raiders. While his time with the Broncos and Browns, Alzado was able to show his great pass-rushing abilities, but he was born to be a Raider.

Photo Courtesy of Bob Rhia Jr., USA TODAY Sports

Some of his career accomplishments include winning Super Bowl XVIII, two Pro Bowl appearances and in 1982, his first season with the Raiders, he was named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year. Alzado was loved by his teammates who saw him as more than the boorish cartoon character type player that fans sometimes saw him as.

Alzado’s name was in the news this season after the Thursday Night game between the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers. At the end of the game, Browns’ defensive end Myles Garrett ripped off Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph’s helmet and used it as a weapon, a move that became famous by Alzado. In 1983, Alzado ripped the helmet off New York Jets offensive lineman Chris Ward and started beating Ward with it. This ushered in the “Lyle Alzado Rule” which states that a helmet cannot be used as a weapon.

At points in his career, he was asked if he took steroids and he vehemently denied it. However, when his career was over he admitted to using steroids and suggested that the steroids contributed to his health issues. Interestingly, the television show Coach from the 1990s did an episode titled, The Bigger They Are… about an Alzado-type player. In the episode, the player who was sick and had used steroids was played by fellow former NFL player Bob Golic, who actually spent a training camp together with Alzado, when Alzado tried to make a comeback with the Raiders in 1990.  

We like to put athletes in one of two boxes, the God-like and the bums. Alzado, like many athletes, doesn’t fit perfectly in either box. Alzado had some good qualities and some less savory qualities, like each and every one of us does. If you watch interviews with players like Howie Long and Matt Millen you will see how Alzado made a huge impact on their lives for the better.

Additionally, while taking steroids and lying about it for years was obviously a bad thing to do, it is important to give Alzado credit for admitting it before he passed away. The interview in Sports Illustrated is still highly regarded and admitting you’ve done something wrong is a difficult thing that we need more of these days.

Photo Courtesy of Peter Read Miller

Alzado died at the age of 43 in 1992. As time has gone on, it is important to talk about players like Alzado and use him as a cautionary tale of the evils of steroids, but also as a beacon of truthfulness even if it was at a much later point.

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