"Players don't like Kyle because most of them have lost that nasty attitude guys used to have," says Saints center Jerry Fontenot, a 12-year veteran. "Kyle plays with an abandon most guys can't handle. Lots of times [defenders] will say across the line, 'Hey, man, don't cut me,' and Kyle will just tell them where they can go."
While not admitting to any deliberate acts of wanton violence, Turley has found himself in the middle of more outlandish free-for-alls than the Rock. Most notable was the Brawl at the Falls, a training-camp melee in August 1999 between the Saints and the Kansas City Chiefs at K.C's River Falls, Wis., practice facility. During the morning session of the teams' first joint practice, Turley came to blows with Kansas City defensive linemen Ty Parten and Chester McGlockton, which led to no fewer than four bench-clearing skirmishes and more than a dozen other incidents by day's end. Tensions ran so high that security guards were assigned to the cafeteria for the teams' evening meal, although the Saints didn't stick around that long, and the following day's scrimmage was canceled. To a man, the Chiefs blamed Turley, but he says, "They cheap-shotted Ricky [Williams, then a rookie running back for New Orleans], so I stood up for my guy. Then it got out of hand."
"At first, I thought Kyle was to blame, but I saw the tapes, and he was just outworking everyone," says Gunther Cunningham, Kansas City's coach at the time. "To him, every play was like the Super Bowl. He's a guy the other team worries about, and that's a huge psychological advantage for him. He plays for keeps—he's so tough, he must live in a cellar by himself. They should change his last name to Nagurski."
Turley's bucking Bronko act began at San Diego State, where game officials often implored his good friend and linemate Ephraim Salaam to muzzle Turley, lest he be ejected. "He'd always be screaming, which was funny because his voice gets real whiny when he yells," says Salaam, a third-year Atlanta Falcons lineman who concedes that his defensive teammates despise Turley. "I'd tell him to stop being such a vocal leader. But as crazy as he is, he's that cool off the field. He's the most generous guy I know, the mellowest. He was an art history major who surfed all the time and who happened to play football."
A bright and thoughtful conversationalist, Turley steered the discussion during the trip to Las Vegas from classic cars to the Dead Sea Scrolls to the speed-metal band Pantera to high school shootings to religious extremism. Given his impulsive nature, Turley is, not surprisingly, an opinionated guy: "I say, bring back the good old-fashioned fistfight on the playground. I think kids are so scared of getting expelled that they don't say anything about conflict until it's too late, when they don't care anymore if they get kicked out. Then they start showing up with guns."
A little later: "So I'm Mormon, and so what? It's what I believe, but it's not all I am. The problem with religion is that people take it, whatever it may be, to the point where it completely dictates their life. That's when things get scary. After what I've been through, ironclad beliefs don't seem so healthy these days."
This is as close as Turley will come to discussing a hurt so overpowering that it nearly incapacitated him last season: After the dissolution of his marriage in July 2000, he did not see his infant daughter, Haley, for nine months. Friends tell of a doting father who was so devastated last August that he lost 20 pounds in a week and didn't sleep for more than a couple of hours each night until the season began. Fontenot, Turley's best friend on the Saints, points to Turley's performance last year as testament to his character. "He could've gone crazy" says Fontenot, "but he channeled the hurt, which was unbearable for him, and used it to his advantage." On a mid-April day Turley finally had reason to rejoice. Following a divorce settlement with his former wife, Kelly, that includes generous visitation rights for Kyle, he saw Haley again.
"It was nerve-racking," says Turley of waiting for Haley at a Southern California restaurant. When the car driven by a nanny arrived, Turley strode to the backseat, passenger-side window and saw his teary-eyed daughter staring back with her baby blues, "wondering who this beast was," he says. He allowed himself a few tears, but not wanting Haley to grow concerned at the sight of him crying, smiled at her and, during the ride to his lawyer's house for an hourlong visit, gave her a stuffed bunny. Because she is, after all, a Turley, she promptly set about trying to tear its ears off. "She's so beautiful now," he says. "She's gotten so big, and she can already walk so well. She tore around the house."
As the visit drew to a close, Turley—eager to leave Haley with a memory she might remember him by for the next visit three weeks later—shook his head back and forth while saying "doe-doe" in a singsongy voice. "She doesn't call me Daddy yet," he says, his voice catching in his throat, "but for now Doe-doe will do just fine."
As the plane begins its descent into Las Vegas, Turley explains how playing last season helped him get through his marital dispute. "That's why I love this game," he says. "It lets me release all my violent, primal tendencies. How many people would kill to do what I do, running around with reckless abandon, letting go? There's nothing I like more"—his voice drops to whisper—"than kicking ass. It makes me feel alive."