A defensive tackle for the New York Jets, in 1981, your third season, the team had a franchise-record 66 sacks which earned you and your linemates – Joe Klecko, Mark Gastineau and Abdul Salaam – 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. 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.”
You established the Marty Lyons Foundation (martylyonsfoundation.org) the following year. How did that come about?
“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.
“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 for terminally ill children or children with a chronic life-threatening illness 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 32 years, we just went over 7,000 wishes and now 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. There are little lessons that we can all learn if we just take time to listen.”
In 1990, following your 12th and final season, the Jets renamed their Outstanding Community Service Award the Marty Lyons Award. Humbling?
“Oh, very humbling. 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.”
Granted, you’re on the Jets Ring of Honor, but are you as proud of what you’ve accomplished off the field as what you accomplished on the field?
“I think I’m more proud of what I’ve accomplished off the field. 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 [Bear] 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, and 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.”
Now the V.P. of Marketing and Public Relations for the LandTek Group, a company that designs and constructs sports facilities, what do you enjoy about your job?
“Well, first of all I enjoy the people I work with. I think that any time you have a healthy environment you can have a successful environment. “I told [the owner, Mike Ryan] that I wanted to help build his company, help his company be recognized. And I said, ‘In doing so I want you to help me build the foundation.’ And 14 years later, we’re one of the largest, if not the largest, on the east coast as far as athletic field construction and he’s the No. 1 sponsor behind the foundation.
“It’s easy to come to work when you’re respected and you have a passion for it. It involves athletic fields which puts you around athletes and athletic directors. It’s a joy to get up and go to work every day.”
So essentially, you’re still on a team.
“I think the biggest team we’re all on is life. I’m on a team every single day I get up. Whether it’s coming here to work or working with the Jets [as their radio analyst] or just my family of four kids and a beautiful wife. Life is the big game. This is just secondary. This is that added income that you need to be successful.
“If you enjoy it, if you have passion for it, if you’re willing to take a chance on yourself to test your limits, you’re always going to be successful. Every now and then you’ll fall short of your goals and that’s when you’ll need those people around you to pick you up and say, ‘Hey, you know what? It’s not over. Let’s try again. Eventually we’ll get there.’”