Martilotta did not give up though. He made one last call, to Yankton (S. Dak.) College, a small private school that occasionally had recruited Long Island players. Yankton said yes, and so was born "The Yankton Flash," as Denver sportswriters now love to call Alzado.
Typically, Alzado did not have close friends in Yankton. Sharon was a student at the University of South Dakota, 30 miles away, and their paths never crossed until he met her two years after he graduated. But Lyle was happy enough. The school provided him with tutoring, the townspeople gave him credit, and he was grateful. Sharon explains, " South Dakota has so many state schools that they get all the local athletes. So Yankton had recruited quite a bit in the East. People were used to...." A tactful phrase eludes her for the moment. "Riffraff," Lyle volunteers cheerfully.
Alzado started on a weight-lifting program at Yankton, and he went from 190 pounds to 230 by Christmas of his freshman year. By the end of his four years at Yankton he had been All-Tri-State Conference twice, MVP in the Copper Bowl in Butte, Mont, and a College All-Star Team selection. He also boxed, losing to Ron Stander in the final of Omaha's Golden Gloves tournament in 1969. (One judge had it 59-60, another 60-59 and the third called it 59-59, but gave the nod to Stander for aggressiveness. "The most unpopular decision in years," said the
Omaha Herald). Alzado lifted so many weights, always looking ahead to the pros, that Yankton later named its weight room for him.
Alzado had planned to major in phys ed but changed early to special education. He explains, "One day the wife of the athletic director asked me to come over to the grammar school to move some chairs, and while I was there I saw some little kids playing kickball. A little girl—she was retarded, only I didn't know it then—asked me to play, and I said, I can't play your game,' and she said, 'It's not my game, it's everybody's game.' Can you imagine a little kid saying that?"
Alzado spent his summers on Long Island, and he and Lyons, who was at Central Connecticut on a baseball scholarship, picked up garbage for the Inwood Sanitation Department. "It was tough working behind a rotten smelly garbage truck," Lyons recalls. "We wore 20-pound vests and ankle weights and we'd run along behind the truck, which was going 6 mph. We'd get in five miles a day of roadwork that way. After the garbage route, we'd go to Mollo's father's garage and lift weights for three hours. Then I'd play baseball, and Lyle would go box. By the end of the summer we were in great shape, and so sick of lifting weights we couldn't wait to go back to school."
Alzado came to the attention of the Broncos in a peculiar way. Assistant Coach Stan Jones was on a scouting trip, when his car broke down one day in Butte, Mont. To pass the time, Jones paid a call at Montana Tech, the only college around, and watched a film of the 1969 Copper Bowl game between Montana Tech and Yankton. "I was particularly watching a Montana Tech halfback, but one guy on the other side popped up all the time," Jones says. "I asked, and they told me it was Lyle Alzado. We went into the draft convinced the kid could play defensive line for us. He had that kind of strength and quickness and he was a good, tough kid. I liked everything I had heard about him, and I was relieved when we got him."
"Lyle was like a kid when he first came to us," says Gerald Phipps, who, with his brother Allan, owns the Broncos. "He would lose his temper, get upset and not play as well as he was capable of playing. Pete Duranko hurt his knee in a preseason game in Lyle's rookie year, and Lyle became a starter right off the bat. That's very tough to do. The first game was against Chicago, the dirtiest team around, and five minutes into the game Lyle was totally useless." He emerged from that game with four stitches in his nose and two in his forehead, but he was in the line to stay.
"Alzado makes things happen," says Red Miller, the Broncos' new head coach. "You get a guy like that once in a while. His intensity rubs off on the other players. He's moody, he has his ups and downs, but let him go sit in a corner, I don't care. I know the next morning he'll be jumping all over the place."
"We have a few holes in the walls around here," says Bob Peck, the Broncos' public relations man, "and we've had to fix some doors."
"That's good," says Miller. "I like people to show emotion."