NY Jets: Marty Lyons talks about his new book, charity work, and Sack Exchange

NY Jets (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
NY Jets (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images) /

NY Jets’ legend Marty Lyons recently sat down to talk with us about his new book.

The NY Jets are in the midst of a very difficult 2020 season. Given the team’s struggles, many fans would likely love to take a trip back in time and remember more promising times for the franchise.

And aside from the famed days of Joe Namath, there is perhaps no more fondly-remembered time in Jets history than the legendary New York Sack Exchange era.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the fearsome foursome of Joe Klecko, Mark Gastineau, Marty Lyons, and Abdul Salaam wreaked havoc on opposing offensive lines establishing themselves as one of the premier defensive fronts in NFL history.

It was an era where fans became obsessed with the “sack” and these four managed to strike fear in opposing offenses due to their proficiency to get to the opposing quarterback.

And given the Jets’ lack of recent success at doing just that, they surely long for the time when franchise legends controlled the trenches.

Fortunately, we recently had the opportunity to sit down and speak with a member of the famous New York Sack Exchange, none other than fan-favorite Jets legend Marty Lyons.

Lyons recently released his new book entitled If These Walls Could Talk: New York Jets. In the book, Lyons takes fans through a timeline of not only his playing career with the Jets but from the past 18 years of covering the Jets as the team’s radio analyst.

The book features some of his favorites stories from his time with the Jets and also touches on his work with the Marty Lyons Foundation. The foundation was established back in the 1980s and is used to work with terminally-ill children to provide them wishes.

100 percent of the proceeds from this book with be donated to the foundation. To purchase an autographed/personalized copy of Lyons’ new book, you could click this link here.

We sat down to talk with Marty about the release of his book as well as his time with the Jets and working with the Marty Lyons Foundation.

Here are the results of our discussion.

About to drop an interview I did with #Jets legend Marty Lyons. ?

Be sure to check out his new book as all proceeds go to the @MartyLyonsFDN. #MLFwishes pic.twitter.com/jNcawTMTTp

— Justin Fried (@JustinTFried) October 27, 2020

Justin Fried: “So I understand you have a book that just released last month, “If These Walls Could Talk.” Basically stories about your time with the NY Jets in the locker room, press box, etc. Tell me a little about what made you decide to write this book. What was your inspiration?

Marty Lyons: “Well the inspiration wasn’t just the NY Jets. When I talked to the publishing company I was like ‘I have no problems writing a book, but I’d like to have it as a cross-over book.’ I started a foundation 38 years ago where I work with terminally-ill children and a good portion of those kids, unfortunately, don’t survive their illness. I wanted to bring awareness to childhood cancer. And they agreed to let me tell stories about the Jets and the kids from the foundation. So it’s more of a crossover book. It’s focused on the Jets and my 42 years of being with the Jets. But I wanted to make sure that people knew there was more to me than just a football player. And I think it’s important for people to realize that no matter what you do in life, no matter what your title is, you have a responsibility to try to make life better for those who are less fortunate.”

JF: “Absolutely and I think you’ve garnered that reputation over the years. Whether it was through your work with the Marty Lyons Foundation or winning the Walter Payton Man of the Year award, you’ve made it clear that you are more than just a football player. You’ve accomplished as much if not more off the field as you did on the field.”

ML: “You know Justin, I thank you for that comment, but I think that any athlete who has God-given tools, you are given those tools for a reason. You’re given that platform for a reason. Use it wisely and for those who are less fortunate.”

JF: “I couldn’t agree with you more. In the book, you touch on your years of playing with the Jets. And it’s impossible to talk about your career without discussing your part in the New York Sack Exchange. What was it like being part of that group? A group that forged a legacy not only in Jets history, but in NFL history.

ML: “It was a special group. We had two guys on the outside in Joe Klecko and Mark Gastineau. You just had to double-team them every play and you can’t double-team both of them so whichever guy was free was going to get to the quarterback. We went into the game not thinking if we were going to get to the quarterback, it was how many times we were going to get back there. And a lot of credit when to the front four, but the defensive coordinator put us in the right spot at the right time to make the biggest play. And the back-seven gave us more time to get to the quarterback so it was a special unit. You can look back and realize it was a special moment in your life and nobody can take it away, but you can’t live in the past. You got to move forward.”

JF: “One of your Sack Exchange teammates, Joe Klecko, actually helped you out with the book and left a touching foreword for everyone to read. What did Joe’s words mean to you and why did you choose him in particular for that part?”

ML: “I think the reason I chose him is that here’s a guy who made a difference in my life — not just on the football field. He took me under his wing and said I had to get stronger, so I got stronger. He said ‘you don’t leave the complex until I leave the complex.’ So I didn’t leave the complex. But we developed a bond, a friendship, that has lasted 42 years now. And I felt like, here’s a guy who deserves to be in the Hall of Fame and that’s a special friend of mine. He’s someone who’s familiar with me outside the four walls of the complex. There was no better person to do it than Joe Klecko.”

JF: “I think there are a lot of Jets fans that would agree that Joe Klecko deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. So in your book, you detail some of the most memorable stories from your decades with the Jets organization. But can you share your favorite story that was NOT included in the book?”

ML: “That as NOT included in the book? Well, I think there’s a reason some stories weren’t included in the book. There are some stories that are just between myself and the players. At the age of 62, there was no one I was going to throw under the bus because why at this stage would I want to throw mud on their life? Eventually, if you throw mud against a wall it splatters back at your own feet. That’s just now who I am. Are there things that I look back on and would change from when I was 22 or 23? Yeah, sure. I think we all can. But I think those are the experiences that make you who you are today. I think one of the chapters I really enjoyed writing was about Dennis Byrd. Dennis was drafted to take my position so I made it a little bit hard on him, I played games with him. He was just an incredible athlete and unfortunately, his career and life got cut short. But in his time with the Jets, he definitely made an impact. He was a true Christian and he never tried to push it on you. He always said that believing in God and being a Christian was a process. I treasured the friendship with Dennis and it kind of breaks your heart to see what happened to him.”

JF: “I’m glad that the Jets were able to honor him in the way that they did later in his life by retiring his number. I remember that day, it was a special moment.”

ML: “And you know Justin, when we retired his number a few years ago, I actually walked out with him to the 50-yard line and was helping hold him up by his belt. He turned to me and asked ‘what should I say.’ And I said, ‘Dennis, just speak from the heart. That’s all you have to do.'”

JF: “So proceeds from the sale of this book will go to support the Marty Lyons Foundation. Now that organization is one of the many incredible accomplishments of yours off the field, you work with terminally ill children and grant them wishes, you help them fulfill their dreams. What would you say is the most rewarding part of that entire experience?”

ML: “I was walking through the park one day and I saw a young lady just sitting there getting some sun. She had a pair of sunglasses on and I walked by and said some friendly comment like, ‘It’s a beautiful day to get some rays.’ And she pulled her sunglasses down and said, ‘Are you Marty Lyons?’ I said, ‘Yes ma’am I am.’ She goes, ‘You know, I never really had a chance to tell you, thank you. You helped my child in the late ’80s. You gave us a wish, you sent us to Disney.’ And I asked, ‘How’s your child doing?’ She said, ‘Unfortunately she passed away. But if it wasn’t for you and your organization, we would have nothing to hold on to. You created memories for us.’ So I think those little thank-yous are what really motivates me. I think sometimes we live in a very selfish society, if you do something good today you want to hear about it. And certainly, you should hear about it, but if you don’t, you do it for the right reason. You do it because it’s the right thing to do and because it feels good in your heart that you did it. But the real rewards in life come 20-30 years after you did something when someone comes up and thanks you for something you did years prior. The real thank yous in life, they don’t have to come right away. But when they do come, they make you reflect on just how much we can make a difference.”

JF: “Finally, we have to touch on it, let’s talk briefly about the 2020 Jets. It’s been a rough season, hell, it’s been a rough few seasons. What are your thoughts on the team right now and do you see them turning things around at any point in the next couple of years?”

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ML: “I have to put confidence in Joe Douglas and team president Hymie Elhai that they’re moving in the right direction. I’ve seen the little things that they’ve done, but you can’t change the culture of the building overnight. Sometimes you have to tear down the foundation to build a three-story house. I think they’re bringing the business side of the Jets together with the football side. And I know right now the fans are frustrated, the players are frustrated, the announcers are frustrated, but you look at Joe Douglas and you see who he trained under, and you have hope. He trained under a good friend of mine in Ozzie Newsome who was one year ahead of me at Alabama. And I have a great deal of respect for Ozzie. When you spend 15 years under Ozzie, you’re going to learn something. Joe Douglas has a plan and right now we have to weather the storm. The storm isn’t over and as frustrating as it is, can we look and find the little light at the end of the tunnel. Well not yet, because you’re 0-5 (the Jets are now 0-7), how are you going to find that silver lining? The best thing they’ve got going for them now is Jamison Crowder. That guy comes to play every single week, but that’s one individual. You have an offensive line that never had the chance to build chemistry and trust with one another because of the pandemic. I can sit here and make all the excuses from the pandemic to no training camp or preseason, but nobody wants to hear that. And nobody should have to listen to that. They’re 0-5 (again, now they’re 0-7). But the players are the only people that can turn that program around. Take some pride in yourself, go out there, and give it your best effort. And if it’s not good enough, it’s not good enough, but there’s only one way to go. You can’t win two games until you win one.”

JF: “Well let’s do our best to have faith in Joe Douglas and in the Jets even if that doesn’t always work out.”

ML: “And you know as fans you want to see your team play well, but don’t let football define who you are. There are more important things in life than the game of football. And that’s life itself. That’s why it was easy to make that transition post-retirement because I never really saw myself as just a football player.”

JF: “And that’s one of the biggest takeaways from this, I believe. Don’t be defined by your job or hobby. For someone like you who’s been around the NFL for so many years, you don’t define yourself by your career. I spoke with ex-Jets linebacker Brandon Copeland a couple of years back and he does a lot of stuff with financial advisory and he’s a part-time professor at Columbia. That’s something that he touched on as well. You don’t want to define yourself by your career. Define yourself by your relationships, by your personality, and by who you are as a person as opposed to just what you do. And I think that’s one of the biggest takeaways from who you are especially given what you were able to accomplish off the field.”

ML: “I learned that very early in my career, Justin. I went to a speaking engagement and it was for the New York Athletic Directors. They had two speakers and I wanted to listen to them to see what I could learn from listening and see how they motivate people. There was a guy next to me who had a survey and he was listening to the first speaker checking all the boxes for ‘good’ and ‘great.’ Then he gets to my name and he starts marking all the grades as ‘poor’ and ‘average.’ So I tap him on the shoulder and I go, ‘Excuse me sir, but I don’t think Marty Lyons has spoken yet.’ And he turns to me and goes, ‘Yeah, but what are you expecting? He’s a football player.’ And right then and there, Justin, I reassured myself that I would not be defined as a football player.”

JF: “That’s an awesome story and I completely agree. Well thank you so much for your time and keep doing amazing things.”

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Thanks again to Marty for taking the time to do this interview and be sure to check out his new book which is available now. Remember, all proceeds go to the Marty Lyons Foundation.

To learn more about the foundation you can visit www.MartyLyonsfoundation.org.