"We were very poor," says Alzado. "My high school coach used to buy me lunch out of his own pocket. I remember his office had a glass window and I'd manage to be going by in the hall about 11:45 and I'd look in and he'd see me and he'd wave me in and slip me some money. I was hungry in those days." Lyle went to work, too. His first job, at the age of 16, was as a janitor in his own high school.
Lyons is 29 now and the head football coach at Stamford ( Conn.) High School. "I met Lyle when we were in junior high, and we became like brothers," Lyons says. "When things were bad at home he'd come live with us, and I'd do the same. The trouble we got into was mostly fights. Lyle was a tough guy with a tough reputation. I would tag along. We weren't really bad guys, but we were always underdogs because of the economic situation in the Five Towns. It sort of gave you an inferiority complex. We'd break some kid's nose in a fight and then, when we'd get home, there would be the cops on our doorstep because the kid's father was a lawyer or a big doctor and he'd have complained and the police chief would have hopped right on it."
While he was still a juvenile, Alzado hung out in Manhattan's Spanish Harlem and was arrested several times for stealing cars and breaking and entering. As he grew older, though, fighting in Long Island bars became Alzado's main antisocial activity. Sometimes he went looking for fights, sometimes he didn't. Either way he usually wound up in the Nassau County jail. According to Lyons, Alzado never drank, never smoked a joint, never missed a single workout, but he fought like crazy.
"I've never been beaten up," says Alzado. "I learned how not to be, how to use my hands and feet. My dad had a bar in Inwood called the Golden Dream. He made me a bouncer when I was still in high school. I learned my back-alley fighting in that bar. You pick up a pipe or you cut somebody when you need to."
Sharon Pike Alzado, a pretty, 26-year-old blonde from Yankton, S. Dak., says, "At first I didn't believe Lyle's stories. I'd see a scar and I'd say, 'What's that from?' He'd say it was from a stabbing and I wouldn't believe it."
For Alzado, athletics were the good part of life in the Five Towns. He was a 6'3", 190-pound Police Athletic League boxer with a stone jaw who won 27 straight bouts. He was a trackman who ran the 100 in 9.9, the 220 in 21.9. And he was a defensive end on the Lawrence High School football team under Coach Jack Martilotta.
For a time Alzado was thrown out of almost every game for fighting, but by his senior year he was taking football seriously. "I was always going to play for the Yankees," says Lyons, whose true love was baseball, "and Lyle was going to play for the football Giants." Alzado and Lyons, along with Richie Mollo and Sal Ciampi, two older local football players who now are high school coaches, used to lift weights in Mollo's father's garage in Inwood. "It was a little old garage," says Lyons. "The weight records were written on the wall, and we'd have a ceremony every time we broke a record."
Lyons, Mollo and Ciampi, along with Ira Gordon, then a bashful center on the Lawrence team, kept after Alzado. "They were succeeding in the same environment I was in and they wanted me to succeed," says Lyle. "I guess you could say I love those guys, even though we're far apart and I only see them maybe once a year now."
The first step toward succeeding, however, was college, and Alzado's high school grades were bad. He had dozens of offers and inquiries from football powerhouses, but he could not even consider them because of his poor record, in and out of school. New Mexico State did offer Alzado a full ride, and he accepted. Then, two weeks before he was supposed to arrive in Las Cruces, he received a letter saying the scholarship was not available after all. "They didn't say why," says Lyle, "but I think they must have got hold of my police record."
So he tried Kilgore Junior College in Texas. "A meat factory," says Lyons. "The kind of place where they make you try out. They tried Lyle at split end, because he was fast, but he's got board hands. He can't catch anything. So they told him he wasn't good enough. He hitched all the way from Kilgore to New Orleans and then he called our coach for help. Martilotta wired him the money to get home. Lyle was really discouraged."