FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – Former New York Jets defensive tackle Marty Lyons was a big part of the famed “New York Sack Exchange” in the late 1970s into the 1980s. But even one of the most feared defensive players of his era has a regret from his playing career, and it wasn't a play he didn't make.
It was one he made and he wishes he hadn't.
On Dec. 7, 1987, Lyons had his own day of infamy when he hit Miami Dolphins center Dwight Stephenson after an interception. Stephenson broke his leg and his promising career ended before his eighth season was completed.
Stephenson and Lyons were college teammates at Alabama.
To this day Lyons, who will be inducted into the Jets "Ring of Honor" on Oct. 13, still regrets that play.
“There was an interception, I got blocked down inside, I came back outside, the ball changed, one of our guys intercepted it. I peeled back and I hit Dwight Stephenson, a guy I love, played college ball with him, hit him in the chest, he fell and he blew out his knee,” Lyons said. “That’s 26 years ago and you look back at your high school career, college career, NFL career, and if you said to yourself, ‘If I could have one play back,’ that would be the play I’d want back. Not to say that I wouldn’t take the same hit because I didn’t feel like it was a cheap shot, it was away from the ball, it was high, it was in the shoulder pads, I just wish the results were different.”
Since that play, Lyons has made his peace with Stephenson and the two remain friends. But it was a moment and a play that haunts him. Currently an on-air analyst for the Jets on ESPN New York, Lyons still continues to hear it from Dolphins fans about that play.
It was, of course, a different era for the NFL and one not nearly as sophisticated about injuries as it is today.
Lyons doesn't blame the league for the lack of concussion policies in place in those days. He chalked it it up as “part of the game” and that players often made the call on the sidelines about whether to go back into a game.
“Many times they’d say, 'How many fingers?' and you’d go, 'Three' and [they'd say] 'That’s close enough' and you’d go back in,” Lyons said. “But that was by choice. That wasn’t the doctors or the trainers saying, 'Hey, you’re OK.' They would tell you to sit on one side of the bench and they would go and look at other players. Next thing you know, you’d be back out there on the field.
"So, I think it was players had to probably be more responsible for their own actions. So, I’m not saying the league didn’t know. I’m not saying the players didn’t know. It was part of the game.”
- - -
Kristian R. Dyer covers the Jets for Metro New York and also contributes to Yahoo Sports. He can be followed for news and random tweetings @KristianRDyer