Just about everyone has at one time or another said, “Remember when…” and launched into a story about family, friend, or experience. Our memories lend a real richness to the tapestry of our lives.
With that in mind, I have decided to embark on a series of “I remember when…” pieces for my Broncos blog, since I have been fortunate enough to have been here a long time. I have seen a lot of Denver Broncos history, a lot of it completely out front, and some of it slightly behind the curtain.
Anyway, it’s fun to share old memories. This is being written on July 14, and I remember when a unique piece of Denver Broncos history took place on this very date, along with the events that preceded and followed up the event itself.
If I said that a Bronco player once fought Muhammad Ali, I am sure many fans would say that could not be so.
But on July 14, 1979 defensive end Lyly Alzado (at about 6’4″, 285) boxed an exhibition against Muhammad Ali at a time when Ali had just retired from competitive boxing. Ali had just won the heavyweight title back and become the first man ever to hold the heavyweight crown three times.
In the way of background, Sylvester Stallone had made his breakthrough movie, “Rocky,” a few years earlier, the classic underdog who “just wanted to go the distance” against the champ. This movie spawned any number of crazy ideas around the country.
Alzado had been a Golden Gloves boxer in his youth. And he had friends who essentially helped spur on the idea, when suggested, and an exhibition was set up in Denver.
Lyle trained at a local gym, in the Globeville area-which itself had a rich boxing history locally at the time. Television crews dutifully covered his training sessions and did a number of reports.
It was an exhibition, but Lyle took it pretty seriously. He was a very complex guy, a really good person in his heart, and within his basket of emotional contradictions there was a warm, naïve element.
Lyle trained as hard for it as he did for football.
That was my second season with the Broncos, and before joining the team Lyle and I had co-hosted a morning radio show for a year on the now long-since departed KEZW radio. He was a unique character, and I could go on forever about Lyle Alzado.
Ali was in good shape but at 234 pounds was dwarfed by Alzado.
Ali danced around and pretty much toyed with Lyle, but Alzado stood in there for the full eight rounds and was most impressive in the clinches, twice actually lifting Ali off the mat and spinning him around.
The fans enjoyed it and it was a bizarre but true piece of Broncos lore.
One of the aftershocks was that the thought of boxing never really left Lyle’s mind for the next several months.
A couple of times during that training camp I was standing, watching practice, and Lyle, in a kneeling or standing position when not on the field, called me over.
“Jim, what should I do? Should I stay in football, or box? I really think I can do that.”
Really and truly, those thoughts were expressed. They had such an innocence to them.
Coupled with the conflicting thoughts of football vs. boxing was the factor that his agent was talking with the Broncos for what was hoped to be a new contract. Emotionally, Lyle was at a crossroads.
Eventually, we returned to Denver from training camp. One day I was in my office typing when Lyle appeared at my door and said he wanted to say goodbye. He was leaving football to box, he said. I was stunned, but wished him well.
“You are leaving pro football to be a professional boxer?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said.
You could not make it up.
When General Manager Fred Gehrke returned from lunch I called Fred and said, “How do you want to handle this Lyle Alzado announcement?”
“What Lyle Alzado announcement?” Fred asked. It turned out that Fred had no knowledge of Lyle’s departure, and was hearing about it from me for the first time.
Next thing I knew, head coach Red Miller was in Fred’s office, and I was asked to tell the tale to Red as well. Fred and Red were old school football men. The idea of a player leaving his team, regardless of what momentary inner confusion the player might be having, was strictly forbidden. I could tell immediately that Lyle would never be back, even though his agent was on the phone with the team almost immediately saying that Lyle really wanted to play, and the only issue was a new contract.
The Broncos traded Lyle Alzado to the Cleveland Browns that weekend, obtaining three draft choices in exchange, one of whom turned out to be Rulon Jones, who went on to be a Pro Bowl defensive end and Super Bowl starter for the Broncos. I could go on forever about Lyle, but that’s enough for now.
I remember when.