Marty Lyons called in to JetNation Radio to discuss his new book, the foundation and the NY Jets. You can listen to the interview and please check out the excerpt below.
Excerpt from Chapter 3 of If These Walls Could Talk: New York Jets by Marty Lyons and Lou Sahadi
This excerpt from If These Walls Could Talk: New York Jets by Marty Lyons and Lou Sahadi is reprinted with the permission of Triumph Books. For more information and to order a copy, please visit Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org, or www.triumphbooks.com/WallsJets.
Chapter 3 – My Rookie Season in the NFL
Back in 1979 there was no combine for the players to attend. You
worked out on your own, and if an NFL team had interest in you,
the team would fly you in for a private workout and physical. I stayed
around the campus of the University Alabama and worked out with
Barry Krauss, Rich Wingo, and Tony Nathan. We had a routine of running
in the morning and lifting weights in the afternoon. I went for
physicals with the Jets, Cleveland Browns, Buffalo Bills, and the Tampa
Bay Buccaneers. I actually thought my best chance of being drafted was
with the Browns. Looking back, those days of working out with Krauss
and Wingo were unbelievable, intense, and competitive. Between the
three of us, no one wanted to come in last.
Out of all the players drafted into the NFL out of Alabama in 1979,
Wingo had the most productive year. With the Green Bay Packers, he
was named NFC Defensive Rookie of the Year. His career would be cut
short because of injuries, but he found a bigger calling when he turned
his life over to Jesus Christ. He was a wild man in college just like the
rest of us. But when he became a reborn Christian, he became a mentor
to me. While I was still finding my way through life, Wingo had found
his platform and purpose. Throughout my life I have been blessed with
good friends, and none are more important than Wingo.
The draft wasn’t covered like it is today with all the ESPN coverage
and whatever. My oldest brother, Jim, actually called me to tell me I was
drafted by the Jets before the Jets did. I called my parents and my high
school coach, George O’Brien, and jumped a plane to New York filled
with excitement but also filled with anxiety, not knowing what to expect.
Being a first-round draft choice, expectations were going to be very high
from both the Jets’ side and also from my side.
The first day of rookie minicamp was pretty typical with physicals,
testing, and photos. I remember the Jets wanted a picture with
the rookie class, and then they wanted a separate picture with myself;
Mark Gastineau, the Jets’ second-round pick; and the head coach, Walt
Michaels, with Walt in the middle. He looked at Gastineau and myself
and said, “The name of the game is get to the quarterback.”
That was the entire conversation. There was no “welcome to the New
York Jets.” Just get to the quarterback. Coach Michaels was old school.
He was all business and not a lot of talk. That’s what the NFL was all
about. It’s a job. You get paid to play football. Training camp was tough.
All the rookies, free agents, and some of the returning first-year players
reported about two weeks before the veterans. Practices were long and
demanding. The Jets were changing their defense from a 3-4 to a 4-3,
meaning they were adding a defensive lineman up front. I was expected
to start right away. Playing defensive end was a challenge. I really didn’t
have the speed to turn the corner and get constant pressure on the quarterback.
The one thing I learned in college, however, was technique. But
technique would only carry you so far in the NFL.
The real highlight of the rookie camp was Gastineau, the second-
round draft pick out of East Central Oklahoma. He had the speed
to get to quarterback and would get the crowd going by doing a sack
dance afterward. He was exciting, but camp took a twist when the veterans
reported to practice a few days later. Guys like Greg Buttle and Joe
Klecko were going to be on the practice field. Hell, both of them would
be in the defensive huddle, telling us what to do. I was very fortunate that
Richard Todd was the Jets’ starting quarterback in 1979, and we were
teammates at Alabama. When Todd was a senior, I was a freshman. So
he took me under his wing and showed me the Big Apple. Surprisingly,
the other two quarterbacks the Jets had were also from the SEC. Matt
Robinson went to Georgia, and Pat Ryan went to Tennessee.
Everyone believed in having a routine. Rookies lifted first and got
treatment second. Rookies got in line to get taped for practice. Veterans
didn’t have to wait; they just cut the line. I couldn’t really complain about
guys cutting the tape line. I just had to outthink the veterans. So after
the first morning practice, I would get iced down, take a shower, and get
taped before I went to lunch. It made it even easier for me to take a nap
and come over a little later for the afternoon practice.
One of the first veterans I met was Klecko. He was nothing but a
big hunk of muscle. He stopped me as I was leaving the weight room
and asked me where I was going. I told him I was going home. He asked
me if I lifted, and I replied yes. Then he told me that I needed to get
stronger to play in the NFL, and I couldn’t leave the complex until he
did. I replied okay and started to walk off when I heard Klecko bark out,
“Where are you going? Didn’t you hear me?”
The bark was pretty loud, and I knew I didn’t want to feel the bite
so I went back in the locker room, changed, and went back in the weight
room. That day created a friendship that has lasted more than 40 years.
Back in the ’70s and ’80s, veterans didn’t talk with rookies much. It was all
about loyalty. There was a good chance that one of their friends, another
veteran player, would be cut if draft choices made the team. Klecko was
respected by every player on the team. And that 1979 team had a bunch
of leaders on it. On the defensive side of the ball, we had guys like Buttle
and Abdul Salaam. They gave the pregame speeches, and those speeches
were classic. On the offensive side of the ball, there was Todd, Clark
Gaines, Marvin Powell, and the old timer, Randy Rassmussen. He was
the only player left from Super Bowl III when the Jets beat the Baltimore
Colts. Rassmussen taped his hands up and held you even in a walkthrough
practice when you weren’t even in pads.
One of the smartest guys on the defense was Buttle. He knew the
entire defense. He knew where everyone was supposed to line up and
what everyone’s responsibility was. Buttle was an All-American in college
from Penn State, and his knowledge showed. If you don’t believe
me, ask Buttle himself.
During training camp the veterans had a tradition where they took
the first-round pick out for drinks and then stuck them with the tab.
There were several bars across the street from our training facility: Bill’s
Meadowbrook, the Salty Dog, and, of course, Buttle’s. That one was
owned and operated by Buttle, our starting linebacker. He was very generous
at his bar. We ate and drank for free as long as we tipped the bartenders
and waitresses. About seven of us also went to the Salty Dog for
beers, shots, and a lot of laughs. I guess the veterans got the final laugh.
When I excused myself to use the restroom, I returned to the bar, and
everyone was gone. The bartender laughed and gave me the tab. He said,
“The guys said, ‘You were buying today.’” The bill was a couple hundred
dollars. I paid it, didn’t complain, never said “thanks, guys,” and just
In the years to follow, I was in the middle of some of those future
first rounders picking up the tab. Some, if not all, were a lot more than
what I paid.
My rookie season roommate was kicker Chuck Ramsey. He was a
great guy, but to this day, he probably still has his first Holy Communion
money. I remember we went out for breakfast one morning, and the bill
was like $23. “It’s $15 a piece, which would leave the waitress a $7 tip,”
I told him.
Then he started up. “Wait a minute,” Ramsey said. “You had three
eggs; I only had two. You had orange juice. I didn’t, and you had English
Muffins, and I had toast.”
Maybe he had a point. Maybe it was just another veteran trick for me
to pick up the entire check, or maybe Ramsey was just cheap. I went with
option two and three, though he was serious and convincing. I picked up
the entire check, and that was the first and only time Ramsey and I ate
After my rookie season, my next roommate was Kenny Schroy. To
this day he is one of the most loyal friends anyone could ask for. The
Jets went 8–8 my rookie season. We opened up at Shea Stadium against
Cleveland. Early in the game, I was playing defensive end when the tight
end came to my side. The No. 1 rule was not to get hooked by the tight
end and to make sure to hold the edge. My old college teammate, Ozzie
Newsome, was the tight end. I lined up in a wide nine position to hold
the edge when Newsome looked up and said, “What’s up, homie?” I
started to reply. Then the ball was snapped, Newsome hooked me, and
the running back ran for about 15 yards around my side. Lesson learned:
hellos are for after the game not during the game. Newsome is in both
the College Football and Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was a great
football player, but he’s a better man.
The next week we didn’t play any better, losing to the New England
Patriots 56–3. Yes, this was the NFL, and this was the Jets at our worst.
The score was 35–3 at halftime, and the fans in Foxboro were outright
nasty. The front row of the stadium was so close to the bench that the
fans seemed like they were right on top of us. They called our mothers,
wives, and sisters by every name in the book. I couldn’t believe how creative
they were. Some of the comments were outright funny. The more
points New England scored, the louder they got. Buttle gave the best
advice: “Don’t acknowledge them.”
After the game the locker room was bitterly quiet. What was someone
supposed to say? We sucked. It was a terrible game by all, including
the coaches. Once we got back to the airport, the flight attendants were
standing outside the plane handing out a plastic bag with two beers in
it. Wow, this was an eye opener. Beer supplied by the NFL after a game?
Nice! The cool thing about this was when you became a veteran player,
the routine continued, and you sat in the same seat every week, and the
flight attendant had your beer on ice. So the motto was created: “win or
lose, you always had your booze.”
Somewhere in the middle of season, we were playing a home game
when a fight broke out. I reacted by getting into the scrum and grabbed
Klecko from behind in a bear hug and pulled him out. After getting back
to the huddle, Klecko looked at me and said, “If you ever do that again,
I’ll kick your ass right here in front of everyone. You either fight with me
or leave me the fuck alone.”
This was game-changing moment for me. This wasn’t college football
anymore. If you got into a fight on the football field at that level, Coach
Bryant would help you pack your bags and send you home. Fighting
wasn’t necessary in the NFL, but it was acceptable. Good ol’ Klecko. I
had a teammate who was going to make me a better player, a teammate
who would always have my back. It doesn’t get any better than that.