Distinctions and honors are nothing new to Marty Lyons, the Jets' radio analyst and their former New York Sack Exchange defensive tackle. He was the team's first-round draft choice in 1979, the Walter Payton Man of the Year in 1984 and an inductee into five regional sports halls of fame along the way.
But one more hall won't hurt at all and today's recognition is big. Lyons, an Alabama icon before he became a Jets star, this morning has been announced as a member of the College Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2011.
"They told me on Friday, and when you get off the phone, the first thing is that you're overwhelmed, you're numb with all the emotions that go along with it," Lyons told newyorkjets.com today.
"It's been 33 years since I played college ball, and to be recognized by the Hall of Fame as somebody special, it's one of those honors that you truly treasure. But you really look deep inside it at a lot of people whose names are not written alongside me but they're there."
Lyons was named along with the rest of the 14-member class at a midday news conference in New York City. He and his "classmates" will be inducted at the National Football Foundation's awards dinner on Dec. 6 at the Waldorf=Astoria Hotel in New York.
This was a major announcement for Lyons but certainly isn't a surprise, considering his prowess as a pivotal member of the Crimson Tide. He helped 'Bama to four consecutive bowl victories and three Southeastern Conference championships from 1975-78.
And his senior season was the pinnacle of that fame-ous collegiate career. He was in the middle of the defense that guided the Tide to their classic Sugar Bowl victory over Penn State for the mythical national championship that year, and was named a consensus All-America first-teamer and SEC Defensive Player of the Year.
He Still Rings the Bell
No surprise, then, that he was selected 14th overall by the Jets in the '79 draft. Mark Gastineau was taken in Round 2 that year and the two thus joined Joe Klecko and Abdul Salaam to complete the D-line that rose to national prominence as the New York Sack Exchange in 1981-82.
The Sack Exchange got to ring the bell for the New York Stock Exchange back then, and fittingly Lyons and two other inductees, Russell Maryland and Lloyd Carr, rang the NASDAQ opening bell this morning in Times Square, when it was first revealed to the public that he would be inducted into the college HOF.
But Marty tipped off some close friends about his honor beforehand. One of those was Kenny Schroy, the Jets safety and Lyons' roommate for more some seven years on the Jets teams of the late Seventies and early Eighties. The two were at a Marty Lyons Foundation event on Friday night when Marty let the word out.
"Once he told me, I gave him a big hug and a kiss," said Schroy this morning. "That's an amazing feat."
Another who heard the news Monday was his broadcasting partner in the Jets radio booth for the past nine years, Bob Wischusen.
"I'm thrilled to death that this happened for Marty. It's awesome," said Wischusen. "I'd say that 80, 90 percent of what I know about him as a player have come after his playing career, from talking to his teammates, the relationships he had with people, like Joe Klecko. His former teammates love him. They do nothing but rave about what he was as a leader, what his work ethic was like."
Making 'The Stand'
Schroy, who had finished up his second Jets season late in 1978, still raves about that Sugar Bowl a few weeks later on New Year's Day, and the vaunted "Goal Line Stand" led by Lyons and Barry Krauss. On fourth-and-inches and the Tide ahead, 14-7, Nittany Lions RB Mike Guman attempted to cross the goal line to tie things up.
But the defensive play call, "Double-X Pinch," worked to perfection for the second straight play as Lyons powered into the backfield, collapsing the line and leading to Krauss' photogenic facemask-to-facemask hit that pushed Guman back short of paydirt.
"That was a great goal line stand," Schroy said for all football fans who remember watching that game. "And for Marty, that was just icing on the cake."
Rex Ryan, who as the Jets head coach has worked with Lyons for pregame radio interviews the past two seasons, also recalls Marty's greatness then and now. And he recalls what his father, Buddy, then the defensive coordinator of the Bears, thought of Lyons.
"That was just a great game," Ryan said. "I remember my dad, oh, man, was he hopin' he could get Marty in the draft. He wasn't so fortunate, but Marty was truly a great player, a guy that could play the run and the pass."
Lyons said a lot of his success as a pro came from legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant and the talent he brought to the Crimson Tide program.
"I went to the University of Alabama in 1975 and began playing for Coach Bryant surrounded by All-Americans from around the country," he said. "They were good people, good athletes, and in the next four years we became good players who held each other accountable. We decided we were going to be the best team we could be. If we played, we played together. If we partied, we partied together. We made those years special."
A History of Giving Back
What is also special about Lyons is his charitable endeavors. He has been involved in helping many good causes over the years — on Saturday he's returning to Alabama for a fundraiser to assist victims of the recent tornadoes. And near and dear to his heart is the Lyons Foundation, which he started 29 years ago to help grant the wishes of children diagnosed with terminal or life-threatening illnesses. Fundraising and charities aren't among the criteria for gaining entry into the College Football Hall of Fame, but Lyons' work in this area has impressed his friends and family nonetheless.
"No matter how great a player he was, he is 100 times the person," Wischusen said. "You see what he does from a charitable standpoint through his foundation for those kids. I've worked with a lot of people in broadcasting and very few of them do I keep in touch with after having worked with them. But if at some point Marty and I aren't working together, we will never lose touch. He's just that kind of guy."
"I've never seen Marty Lyons have a bad day," Ryan said. "He is an amazing guy. I always want him to be around our guys as much as possible, because they see his enthusiasm and that's what I always want the New York Jets to be, to be that kind of guy, just a ferocious competitor on the field and a total gentleman off the field."
The College Hall of Fame located in South Bend, Ind., is the sixth institution of illustriousness that has inducted Lyons over the years. He's also a member of the State of Alabama Hall of Fame (2000), the Long Island-based Suffolk and Nassau county sports halls of fame (2001 and 2002 respectively), the Maryland Sports Hall of Fame (2004; Marty born in Takoma Park, Md.), and the Tampa Bay Sports Club Hall of Fame (2007; he grew up in Pinellas Park, Fla., and attended St. Petersburg Catholic High).
Lyons, in his first time on the Bowl Subdivision ballot that this year contained 79 players in all, now becomes one of the 1,088 members of the Hall (896 players, 192 coaches).