'Certain steroid' reduces rage of Alzado to dying whimper


NEW YORK -- To anyone who watched that Oakland Raiders-New York Jets game during the Super Bowl XVII playoffs, the moment is unforgettable. In a rage, Lyle Alzado snapped the helmet off Chris Ward and flung it at the Jets' offensive tackle.

"Ward kept holding me," the Raiders' defensive end later explained.

During the next offseason, the NFL created what is known as the Alzado Rule: the removal of another player's helmet shall result in ejection and a possible fine.

But nearly a decade later, Lyle Alzado is now in an even more unforgettable moment. Once thickly bearded and bushy haired,

his frail face was pasty and a black bandanna with white skulls covered his head as he acknowledged that his inoperable brain cancer was caused by a "certain steroid" he took when trying to return to the Raiders a year ago at age 41.

"In my comeback attempt," Alzado was saying Saturday night on "First Person With Maria Shriver" on NBC, "I used a certain steroid that caused me to lower my immune system."

Alzado's voice once growled. But now it almost whispered. He didn't identify the "certain steroid" that damaged his immune system and didn't supply medical confirmation. But the NFL's former drug adviser, Dr. Forest Tennant, supported the theory.

"Anabolic steroids depress the immune system and lymphocytes," Tennant told The Associated Press. "He has lymphoma. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out the connection."

You don't have to be an NFL player to figure out that anyone who has ever taken steroids heard the alarm that Alzado sounded. He is believed to be the first pro football player publicly to link steroids to cancer.

For years doctors have warned of steroids' potential damage. Now anyone who has ever taken steroids must be wondering, was that "certain steroid" among them? If it was, will it affect them the same way?

In also confessing that he took steroids "most of my career; I played 16 years," Alzado sounded another alarm that the NFL can't ignore.

Asked if "when you were at training camp and playing, was everybody that you came into contact with on steroids?" Alzado replied, "Ithink so."

Asked if he knew so, he said, "I know 75 percent of the teams that we played, 75 percent of those guys took some use of enhancement to perform."

It's unclear whether Alzado was referring to his brief comeback at the Raiders' training camp last year or to his earlier 16 seasons, or both.

"Big massive guy that I was, I don't like to admit this but it was all phony," said Alzado, who had a gold earring in his left ear. "It got me where I wanted, but it also got me very sick."

Now that Alzado has acknowledged taking a "certain steroid" in his comeback attempt, the NFL has to be wondering if he circumvented the test for steroids when he reported to the Raiders' training camp last year, how effective were the tests for any player? If he wasn't tested, why wasn't he? Also, where does the Raiders' medical staff, their front office and their managing general partner, Al Davis, fit into all this?

"I'm clean," Alzado had told Shriver during his comeback a year ago when asked about steroids. "I've always been clean."

But during Saturday night's interview, Alzado, who reportedly had lost 60 pounds from the bulky 265 he weighed a year ago, resembled a feeble old man. When he walked, one arm was held by Shriver or by his wife, Cathy.

"I'm half the man I was," he said. "Not everything works all the time. My personality is different. I'm a lot calmer."

As a defensive end, Alzado thrived on rage. He liked to say: "There's a fury in me. From the streets. From where I grew up. I'm not going to kid you. I'm a violent person and I'm playing a violent game."

He liked to say that he "grew up in Brooklyn gangs" before moving to Long Island. All that rage was renewed in 1982 when the Cleveland Browns, thinking he was through, traded him to the Raiders for an eighth-round draft choice.

"You know what an eighth-round draft choice is worth?" he roared at the time. "Nothing!"

Insulted and embarrassed, Alzado worked out harder than ever. Heavy weight lifting. Running three to six miles in the morning. Sprints and stadium steps in the afternoon. And judging by his acknowledged steroid use during "most" of his career, whatever chemical assistance he could find. But that was in keeping with his desperation to maintain his NFL reputation.

"Lyle's primary emotion, like mine, is insecurity," his Raiders teammate Howie Long once said. "Even when success comes, you don't believe it'll last. The constant battle to make it. The eternal quest for satisfaction."

When that unidentified "certain steroid" was added to the constant battle and the eternal quest, Alzado developed inoperable brain cancer.

But by sounding a public alarm, maybe he will alert some high school and college kids, if not NFL players, to the steroid threat that doctors have been preaching for years without enough success. Until now other football players may have preferred to remember Alzado's favorite boast.

"If me and King Kong went into an alley," he once said, "only one of us would come out. And it wouldn't be the monkey."

Lyle Alzado isn't boasting now. He's too busy trying to stay alive. And anyone in steroid testing should be too busy making sure that tests can't be circumvented.

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