J. Brady McCollough
J. Brady McCollough - Courtside Allen Field House


Sunday, August 27, 2006

Natural born protector Turley now protecting Trent Green's backside

 

By J. BRADY McCOLLOUGH

The Kansas City Star

 

RIVER FALLS, Wis. | Kyle Turley is trying to enjoy his lunch. At the same time, a bee is trying to get a sniff of Turley’s Subway sandwich. It buzzes and whizzes around the picnic table on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

 

Turley flicks it away with his big right hand and doesn’t give it a second thought. But the bee is persistent. It lands on Turley’s sandwich. Those anger management classes Turley once took are long forgotten.

 

This bee might as well be wearing a New York Jets helmet.

 

“You’re going to die,” he sings softly to the bee, mimicking a demented voice. “You’re going to die …”

 

He grabs his napkin and sizes up the correct angle. He swoops in, misses once, and then quickly squishes the bee into the sandwich.

 

“I wouldn’t have killed him if he wasn’t bothering us so much,” Turley says, taking a bite.

 

Say this for Kyle Turley: The man doesn’t walk away from a fight. This is the guy who once ripped a helmet off another player and famously threw it downfield. The same guy who, in defense of a teammate, started what would later be dubbed “The Brawl at the Falls” when the Saints and Chiefs scrimmaged here a few years back.

 

The big man wants you to know something else: He doesn’t regret any of it.

 

“Every fight I’ve been in,” he says, “has been in defense of someone or something.”

 

That’s good news for quarterback Trent Green. Turley is his bodyguard now, shoved into the starting lineup at left tackle to replace the suddenly retired Willie Roaf. After two years away from football, the Official NFL Bad-Ass has something to defend again. And the instincts are still sharp.

 

Turley looks up from the picnic table. A second bee is zooming in.

 

“We’ve got another one,” he says.

 

***

 

So how does an art major who loves to surf become the bad boy in a league filled with bad boys?

 

The story starts in 1982, Kyle’s second-grade year, in the principal’s office. Kyle had gotten into a fight, and the school had called his father, John Turley. When John arrived, he asked Kyle what happened. Kyle was mum, looking as if the world had just ended.

 

The principal explained to John that Kyle had beaten up a classmate because that child had stolen another kid’s lunch money.

 

John thought for a second, and said, “Well, good. Good for him.” John patted Kyle on the back, and they went home.

 

“It wasn’t because he was going around picking fights,” John says. “Bullies were picking on little kids that couldn’t defend themselves. Kyle would step in and defend them.”

 

That’s what the Turley men did. John Turley, now chief deputy of the Grant County (Wash.) Sheriff’s Department, was a policeman for many years, the first guy through the door on drug raids. Kyle’s great-great-great grandfather, Theodore Turley, was tarred-and-feathered twice for practicing Mormonism in Missouri. He would later escape persecution and help start a Mormon community at the urging of one Brigham Young.

 

“You look at the pictures of them,” John Turley says, “and they’re almost spitting images of Kyle. He comes from a hardy stock of defenders and people that try to take care of other people.”

 

Kyle took on his family’s legacy. In high school, after moving to Southern California, he and his buddies would go to the beach and start bonfires at night. Inevitably, the fire marshal or park ranger would arrive and try to kick the gang out. It was Kyle who would stand up for them.

 

“Kyle would be the one to talk him out of it, change his mind,” says Adam Conley, Kyle’s high school friend. “He was always passionate. He’s never been a violent fighter.”

 

***

 

The creation of Kyle Turley, the football player, began the summer before his senior year of high school. He had never played football before, only wrestled, played baseball and surfed.

 

He had the right temperament for the sport. He was also 6-feet-5 and 225 pounds. Turley excelled immediately at defensive end, and he earned a scholarship to San Diego State. There, he moved to offensive line, a position more befitting his makeup. He spent his first year eating and lifting constantly to gain weight, and he started at tackle as a redshirt freshman.

 

“He wasn’t content to just make a block,” says Ed White, his line coach at San Diego State. “To him, making a block was physically annihilating somebody. His helmet would pop off, and he’d block guys with his face if he had to.”

 

White played 17 years in the NFL as an offensive lineman. He had played in the same era as Conrad Dobler and the renegades of old. White could tell that Kyle Turley was a throwback, willing to do anything to clear a path for his teammates.

 

So he taught Turley the art of the cut block, considered by defensive players to be one of the dirtiest moves in the book. White used to cut Dick Butkus. Turley perfected it, and by the end of his senior year, he was an All-American and coveted by NFL scouts. In 1998, Turley was drafted No. 7 overall by the New Orleans Saints.

 

“Kyle plays offensive line like a defensive lineman,” White says. “Most offensive linemen grow up as offensive linemen. They don’t have quite the edge that Kyle has.”

 

***

 

Off the field, Kyle Turley had always been a referee, doling out his judgments of right and wrong. Everything was black and white. And if you were “wrong,” Turley would let you know it.

 

“I don’t go around picking fights with people,” he says. “Inside of me, there’s definitely a line that can be crossed. For me, there is right and there is wrong. I try to be a good citizen. There’s a saying I like to go by: ‘Respect everyone, but be disrespected by no one.’

 

“In a fight-or-flight situation, I’m a fighter. I don’t run.”

 

On the field, there were plenty of chances for Turley to fight. He’d often get in scraps with his own teammates at practice and became one of the most feared — and despised — players in the league.

 

So, on a Sunday afternoon in early November 2001, the stage was set for a moment Turley will never live down. The Saints were trailing 16-9 late in the fourth quarter of a game against the Jets. Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks was taken to the Superdome turf by Jets safety Damien Robinson, who proceeded to twist Brooks’ helmet. Brooks let out a shriek, which made the hairs on Turley’s neck stand up.

 

It was as if a siren had gone off in Turley’s head. He attacked Robinson like he might have that bully from second grade. Turley yanked Robinson’s helmet off, tossed it into the air and saluted millions of people with a middle finger.

 

Thousands of miles away, on his couch, John Turley was cheering for his son. He would have done the same thing. “That was a lousy throw,” John would later joke with Kyle.

 

“The only thing I ever regretted,” Turley says, “was throwing that helmet. If I had done it all over again, I’d still beat that kid down as much as I could have. It was a definite moment of blindness, where you’re like, ‘What just happened?’ ”

 

***

 

Anger management classes didn’t go as the Saints had hoped. For one, Turley didn’t believe he had anger issues. Then, Turley says, the people who ran the classes were Saints fans. They loved the way Turley played. Unfortunately, the Saints didn’t.

 

The team cut its losses with Turley after the 2002 season, sending him to the Rams. The fans of New Orleans mourned. After the helmet throw, “Turley for Mayor” signs had been posted all over the city.

 

The Rams did not provide the fresh start Turley was hoping for. He started to feel pain up and down his right leg during the 2003 season. The Rams sent him to a specialist at season’s end, after the playoff hunt was over. The specialist diagnosed a herniated disk in Turley’s back.

 

“The Rams knew exactly what I had all season long,” Turley says. “They wanted me to push through it until the season was over. They used me completely. It just blew my mind.”

 

Rams officials did not return phone calls for this story.

 

Turley had back surgery in March 2004 and rehabbed with the idea of trying to play that season. But when training camp arrived, he knew he wasn’t ready. He says the Rams told him to play through the soreness, and he re-injured the disk three days into camp. Turley was furious.

 

He went to Los Angeles to see spinal specialist Robert Watkins. Turley says Watkins couldn’t believe the Rams had let him into full-contact drills only four months after major back surgery.

 

Turley met with Rams coach Mike Martz that fall. Turley says Martz accused him of “taking the money and running,” questioning his desire to play football. Turley blew a gasket, issuing a few strings of expletives to Martz. Later, a report surfaced that Turley, already seen as the league’s Neanderthal, had threatened to kill Martz.

 

“He thought he could take advantage of my reputation,” Turley says. “I’ve never missed a practice, a down, until this injury happened. After that, I took off.”

 

***

 

Turley and his wife, Stacy, landed in Mexico, at their seaside home. Turley wanted to stay there permanently. It would be just him, Stacy, his board and the ocean, no one he couldn’t trust.

 

“Kyle is completely honest to everyone,” Stacy Turley says. “He doesn’t beat around the bush, and I think that he believes everyone is the same way with him. He’s been burned several times by friends and employers.”

 

Stacy understood why Turley needed a break, but she also wasn’t going to start a family south of the border.

 

“If it weren’t for Stacy,” Turley says, “I’d be a Mexican right now. I could have easily been content walking away. I had a great career the first six years. At the same time, I’m not built to quit. As much as I wanted to stay in Mexico, I said, ‘Screw that. Let’s go back. Let’s do it again.’ ”

 

The re-creation of Kyle Turley began in January 2005 at Athletes’ Performance in Tempe, Ariz. He weighed 230 pounds and looked just like he did when he first learned to play football.

 

“He felt better the lighter he got,” says Luke Richesson, Turley’s trainer in Arizona. “He wanted to start from scratch, a blank canvas.”

 

Turley’s back was in pain when he first arrived, and his right leg had lost most of its muscle tissue. But after a few weeks of 3 1/2 -hour training sessions, the pain had alleviated, and Turley could focus on building back the muscle in his leg. Soon, Turley began thinking about coming back as a tight end or defensive end.

 

But Turley didn’t pass his physical in early June, and the Rams released him, a formality at that point. Turley decided to take the year off from football and continue training, this time in Los Angeles.

 

Turley had big plans for himself in Hollywood. Always a heavy-metal fan, he started hanging out with heavy-metal producer Mikey Doling, whom Turley had seen as the lead guitarist of bands with names like Snot and Soulfly. It wasn’t long before Turley and Doling started their own record label, Gridiron Records.

 

Turley even earned a starring role as the killer in a slasher film called “75.” In the movie, he gets to wear a ski suit and chop college-aged kids’ heads off. He was a natural.

 

But despite all the fun he was having, Turley’s time in LA was about getting ready for a return to the NFL. It was about getting away from all the noise he’d created for himself in New Orleans and St. Louis. Turley and Conley, his childhood friend, spent hour upon hour out on the Pacific, where there was a different kind of noise.

 

“Kyle’s an artist,” Conley says. “There’s an incredible connection between that type of personality and the ocean. You’re sitting out there, in the middle of the water, it’s so calm and peaceful, it’s easy to meditate. I think he did a whole lot of that while he was out there the last couple of years.”

 

Turley says getting away from the game for two years helped him mature. He says he won’t take things so personally anymore. Carl Peterson and Herm Edwards saw the same thing when they met with Turley earlier this summer. The Chiefs signed him to a two-year contract, hoping Turley could at least serve as a backup tackle this year and be ready to start next year.

 

“First and foremost,” Turley says, “I wanted to walk out of that tunnel one more time and have the announcer say my name.”

 

Turns out, Turley will get much more than that.

 

***

 

Trent Green’s new bodyguard is still mean. Just ask Chiefs defensive end Jared Allen.

 

“He’ll do anything to block you,” Allen says. “One time, he boxed me out like it was basketball.”

 

Or ask Edwards.

 

“Ohhh, I don’t think that left,” he says. “When you’re mean, you’re mean.”

 

Or ask Turley.

 

“As soon as I go out of that locker room, there is a switch that flips on,” Turley says. “It’s a focus and determination that supersedes anything outside of that field. It’s a gladiator sport. It’s a fight, it’s a battle in itself, a war, if you will, a very primitive one. There are no weapons, outside of fists and the helmet you have on. Nothing has changed as far as that’s concerned.”

 

Or ask the bee population of River Falls. That second bee has just met the same fate as the first.

 

“Two down,” Turley says.

 

In a few minutes, Turley gets another. That’s three.

 

“Don’t mess with a lineman and his food,” Turley says.

 

A fourth bee takes its place in line. This is getting ridiculous.

 

He doesn’t want to kill any more, so Turley tries putting his food away. The bee lingers.

 

It’s fight-or-flight time again. Annoyed, Turley slowly gets up from the bench and walks away. The bee will live today. Turley will finish eating inside.

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