94: Lyle’s Second Go

94: Lyle’s Second Go

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tales of Golf and Sport

Lyle’s Second Go

Excellence is not a skill. It is an attitude.

~Ralph Marston

In 1982, when I was coaching the Raiders, we were approached by Cleveland on a possible trade for Lyle Alzado. After watching him on tape, I was not very impressed, but Raiders owner Al Davis felt we could pump some life into Lyle by surrounding him with the right atmosphere. We made the deal.

That summer at training camp, preparing for our first year in Los Angeles, Lyle was having a tough time mentally. He had that look in his eyes that many rookies and some old veterans get when things aren’t going well. It’s a scared, glazed look that isn’t pretty to a coach.

One morning Lyle came into my office and closed the door. He looked like he hadn’t slept. Here was a huge hulk of a man, with his head about as low as it could go. We talked, or rather, I listened. The bottom line was that Lyle felt his career was over and it would be best for him and for the team if he retired. He apologized for disappointing us since we had just traded for him.

Lyle was always an emotional guy. This is one of the reasons he was a good defensive end. He carried all that emotional energy with him constantly, ready to fire out at the snap of the ball. Now he was in front of me, on the verge of tears.

I thought for a moment, realizing we had to stoke that fire. Then, calmly, I went through my reasons why he should not retire. He was running with the second defensive line. I assured him that would change if he stepped it up, but that he couldn’t reach that level in his present mental state. At the end of our talk, I said, “You go out and play like hell, and let us decide if you still have it. Personally, I think you do.”

Jump now to January 1984. Tampa Bay Stadium. Super Bowl XVIII. I’m pacing the sidelines. With less than two minutes remaining, we’re leading 38-9. It’s over! We’re the world champions of professional football. My second Super Bowl win as a head coach. As I paced, I saw coaches and players ready to burst with joy, just trying to hold themselves on the sideline until the game was officially over. Then I saw Lyle, standing by the bench, crying like a baby. I had to turn away quickly or I would have joined him in tears.

I remembered that morning in my office, and what Lyle, and what the Raiders, had accomplished since he came to us: 8-1 in the 1982 strike year, and 12-4 in 1983, straight through the playoffs to the AFC title over Seattle, and now a win over Washington in Super Bowl XVIII to make us world champions. If Lyle hadn’t kicked into gear and given his career another shot, he wouldn’t have had this victory. Maybe the Raiders wouldn’t have had this victory. During that moment, amid the almost-hysterical joy of the whole team organization, I felt one of the greatest satisfactions of my coaching career.

Lyle is gone now, the victim of an aggressive brain cancer that took him early, but not before he became a world champion.

~Tom Flores
Chicken Soup for the Sports Fan’s Soul

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