Marty Lyons began his relationship with the Jets – first as a defensive lineman and now as the team’s radio network game analyst – 18 years before rookie quarterback Sam Darnold was born.
An All-American under coach Paul “Bear” Bryant at the University of Alabama, Lyons was chosen by New York in the first round of the 1979 NFL Draft. Two seasons later, he and his linemates; Joe Klecko, Mark Gastineau and Abdul Salaam, helped lead the team to a franchise-record 66 sacks, earning them the nickname “New York Sack Exchange.”
“We complimented one another. (Gastineau and Klecko) at the outside positions just had tremendous speed. You couldn’t double-team them,” Lyons said. “And if Abdul and I could lock up the three guys in the front, it gave Mark and Joe the ability to get to the quarterback.
“I think that there was a clear understanding that the front four, we were all on the same page. And the back seven (linebackers and secondary), they had to give us enough time to get to the quarterback.”
Lyons founded the Marty Lyons Foundation [martylyonsfoundation.org] in 1982. A not-for-profit 501 (c)(3) organization, it was established to fulfill the special wishes of children, 3-17, who have been diagnosed as having a terminal or life-threatening illness by providing and arranging special wish requests.
“My oldest son was born on March 4. My dad suddenly died on March 8. And a little boy I was a big brother to died at the age of five and a half on March 10. So, in a matter of six days you go from the ultimate high to the ultimate low and you’re left asking that question why and never find an answer,” Lyons said.
“I felt that this was God’s way of challenging me. He gave me the ability to play the game of football, gave me a platform to speak from, and to take time to give something back to those that were less fortunate.
“So, when I established the foundation, it was to take their greatest wish in life and make it become a reality. Basically, it’d be that same opportunity I felt every Sunday, an opportunity to feel important.
“In the 36 years, we are over 7,700 wishes and operate in 13 states. It’s been very rewarding. Unfortunately, some of these kids pass away way too early. A good percentage, they don’t see the age of 18. But each one in their own right, if you take time to listen to them, they’re a teacher. They’re a teacher in the game of life. They give you the values of if you have faith, don’t be afraid to die. If there are people that are important in your life, tell them so. Don’t take for granted that they know.”
In 1990, following his 11th and final season, the Jets renamed their Outstanding Community Service Award the Marty Lyons Award.
“I think any time that you’re recognized for your community involvement and they put your name to it, it also represents all those children that have come through the doors of the foundation. It represents the board of directors. It represents my family. I don’t think anybody achieves any award by themselves,” said Lyons, who was humbled by the gesture.
“When the Jets changed the name, I think they were announcing to everybody that we recognize the work that goes into the community by the Marty Lyons Foundation, by him, the volunteers, and more importantly, the children.”
Added to the Jets Ring of Honor five years ago, is Lyons as proud of what he accomplished off the field as what he accomplished on the field?
“I think I’m more proud of what I’ve accomplished off the field,” said Lyons, the 1984 NFL Man of the Year. “I think any time that you’ve got God-given tools and have a great supporting cast like I’ve been surrounded by my whole life, from high school to Coach Bryant at the University of Alabama to playing with the Jets, being around gifted athletes can always make the level of your game go a little bit higher.
“But when you take time to help those less fortunate, I think it speaks volumes about who you are as a person, the values that you were taught by your parents. It’s a reflection on everybody that’s touched your life.
“Again, it’s easy to play the game of football when you have God-given tools, but we can all make a difference. You don’t have to be a football player. All you have to do is care.”
The V.P. of Marketing and Public Relations for the LandTek Group, a company that designs and constructs sports facilities, Lyons is also in his 17th year as the game analyst on the Jets Radio Network.
“I enjoy being around the guys. I enjoy traveling with the team. The Jets are a family that I owe a great deal to,” Lyons said. “Along with the University of Alabama. I learned so much from Coach Bryant. He prepared his players not just to play football, but to be successful in life.
“I remember thanking Coach Bryant for the opportunity to get an education and to play the game of football. I was just drafted by the Jets, and he said in a very soft way, ‘You’ll be able to build financial security for you and your family and you’ll play a game you love. But remember this; a winner in the game of life is the person that gives of himself so other people can grow.’
“I was 21 or 22 at the time and I didn’t understand those words. They went in one ear and out the other. And in 1982, when I went through those six days, all of a sudden those words popped back into my head about what Coach Bryant was actually saying. One day the game’s going to end for everybody, but it doesn’t mean life ends. It means that now you have an opportunity to do other things. As long as you never put yourself up on one of those pedestals where you think you’re better than somebody because you’re playing the game. You’re not! You’re just more fortunate than some of the other people.”