"We've always been afraid of this. We get calls here all the time. Guys panicked. Cut. Saying, 'What can I do?I'm out of money. Can you get me a loan?' It's really scary. You can't imagine the letdown (when a pro football career is over). We're lucky this hasn't happened more." -- Brig Owens, NFL Players Association
Because he physically resembled one, Jim Tyrer seemed a pillar to nearly everyone around him. Yet he was crumbling within. There had been crisis clues for weeks, although nothing to suggest that one of the NFL's fine gentlemen and players would six days ago take his wife's life and then his own.
To his best friend, Fred Arbanas, Tyrer clearly had been depressed five days before the murder-suicide. He had just left a job interview and said that, at age 41, he now was competing for work against recent college graduates, men only slightly older than his daughter.
Tyrer frequently had asked, "How do I look?" of former teammate George Daney and his wife, Linda. In fact, he had lost nearly 40 pounds in recent months. He hinted of enormous debt -- and sources estimate it ranged from $100,000 to $250,000 -- but also looked at one of Daney's cars and said he might buy it for his son, Bradley.
To his minister, the Rev. Ted Nissen, Tyrer had seemed increasingly paranoid. He was certain he had diabetes when exhaustive tests indicated no such thing. When one of his teeth began giving him trouble, Tyrer was convinced he would soon lose them all. Nissen had arranged psychiatric counseling and given Tyrer the doctor's name and phone number three days before the tragedy. Tyrer never called, and told a friend he was frightened of possible shock treatments.
"What he shared was the tip of an emotional iceberg," said Nissen, who had known Jim and Martha Tyrer for 16 years and had baptized two of their four children at the Colonial Presbyterian Church. "Few, if any, of us, have had to make such a transition. He had been at the top, from junior high school through high school through college and through the NFL. He had been idolized. No (Kansas City) Chief was more honored, not even (quarterback) Len Dawson.
"But it got to the point where Jim considered himself a failure. Whether that's right or not isn't important, because he believed that and couldn't deal with reality. All of a sudden, he was mortal. That's hard enough for most of us to realize, but so much more so for someone playing his role. He needed to cry out, "I feel like ending it all.' But he couldn't -- or didn't to anyone I know. "What we saw as a strength -- his ability to keep his feelings to himself, that silent pride -- was a liability. He was frightened, but that was contrary to the image he had built and lived up to. So he couldn't act. He seemed almost paralyzed."
Every youngster in America dreams of having a Tyrer-like career in sports, to have written of him what the Chiefs wrote of this giant in their 1974 press guide:
"Has been a Chiefs starter ever since his rookie year, 14 seasons ago . . . Named to two straight AFC-NFC Pro Bowls, '70 and '71 . . . Regarded as one of the finest offensive tackles in the game . . . Named consensus All-Pro in 1970 . . . Selected as AFL's offensive lineman of the year by National Football League Players Association in '69 . . . Has been selected to All-AFL team and has participated in Pro Bowl nine times . . . Was cocaptain of team in '70, '71 and '72 . . . College all-American at Ohio State . . . President of his own company, Pro Forma, a merchandising firm and representative for various professional athletes in commercial ventures . . . Married, four children."
At 6-foot-7 and nearly 300 pounds at times, Tyrer consistently was the largest player on a team of giants. The best of the Chief offensive lines started with the runt center, 6-4, 240-pound E. J. Holub, and worked their way up. Yet Tyrer was oddly built, with spindly legs and an enormous head topped with red hair.
"The Pumpkin," said the other tackle on those lines, Dave Hill. "That's what I always think about when someone mentions Jim.We (the offensive linemen) were very close, roomed together for years and years. Jim and Fred (Arbanas), me and (Ed) Budde. Jim was our first player rep. jWe all had nicknames, things we wouldn't let anyone else call us but were all right from a teammate.
"We had a halfback named Bert Coan, who before practice one day carved this huge pumpkin, cut up a piece of red carpet like hair and set it on the 50-yard line. Looked just like Jim. He took it like we meant it, in fun. We'd joke that Martha would hire his head out to kids on Halloween to use as a jack-o-lantern for 50 cents an hour."
On trips, Tyrer ran with the Greasers rather than the Gourmets, the players who would scoot for the restaurant that offered the most food at the cheapest prices. Dawson, Johnny Robinson, Jerry Mays and some other flashy players would search for five-star quality; Tyrer and the offensive linemen demanded only quantity -- and that the beer be cold and plentiful.
Yet, Tyrer rarely was out of character. Almost no one can recall a time when he was not true to his image. Hill, his close friend, said he saw Tyrer drunk just once. And that certainly could be excused, the Chiefs having clinched the right to play in the first Super Bowl with a rout of the Bills in Buffalo a few hours before.
Those Chief teams were among the best in pro football, winners of the AFL championship in '62, '66 and '69 and Super Bowl 4. Many of the prominent players, including most of the offensive linemen, still live in the Kansas City area.
"But Jim and I sort of drifted apart after we retired (on the same day in 1975, after Tyrer spent an injury-dotted final year with the Redskins)," Hill said. "I never was in Jim's home -- or he mine -- after football. Fred, Ed and I associate more, 'cause we all live close.
"I can't remember the last time I saw Jim. But he was on the phone about three weeks ago, looking for a job, wondering if I knew anyone who needed a good man. You get to thinking now, get some of the facts together, and you can see how this might have happened. Not much went right for him in business. At 37-38, he was just starting over at a time men he went to college with were in their prime earning years."
Twice during an hour-long interview, Hill paused and said emphatically, "I think Jim would have been better off if he'd never played football.
"He was a hard worker, intelligent (he had a degree in zoology) and (had) a good business sense. But he got trapped in something."
In addition to helmets, so many NFL players wear unseen masks that hide their feelings from even close friends. Mostly, they offer a brave, haughty, sometimes clownish front to maintain the proper macho air, to keep us from knowing that, as a lot, they are among the most insecure workers on the planet.
On the excellent Chief teams of the late '60s and early '70s, no two players seemed more dissimilar than celebrated offensive tackle Jim Tyrer and backup guard George Daney. Tyrer seemed a tower of strength, always forward-thinking and sensible; Daney was seen as a flake, if not quite a goof-off, a man who joined center Jack Rudnay in countless pranks and seemingly gave no thought to life after football. In tandem, Daney and Rudney were known as Heckle and Jeckle, after the cartoon birds.
Once, to relieve the boredom of yet another film, Rudnay and Daney unscrewed all the outlets within 100 yards of the projector, snipped all the wiring and then replaced the outlets. Coach Hank Stram must have considered hiring an electrician as an assistant coach. There was a method to this seeming madness, Daney insists. Acting looney often was a way to avoid becoming looney.
Although none of his teammates sensed it while he was playing, Daney fully realized the limits of pro football, that it was an interlude in his life, to be used as a springboard toward financial freedom rather than as a way to avoid growing up.
Like most players, Daney was frustrated at the uncertainty, callousness and lack of imagination in the NFL during his seven years with the Chiefs. Unlike most players, he mustered the courage to quit long before being ordered. In early July of 1975, Daney charged into the Chief offices to announce his retirement. Nobody was there to acknowledge it.
"The office was about a mile from the house," he said. "I'd gone that far, I had to tell someone. So I told the only person there -- the trainer. I told him to tell the front office. Then I went on vacation. When I got back, I found out they traded me to Houston, that they were trying to salvage something.
"I could have gone two more years, maybe five. But where would it have gotten me? Where's the breaking-off point? Jim was at a much higher level (of income) than me. But he still had to start from the bottom some time. That's not a pessimistic view. It's realistic. You get caught in an ego and financial trap. And the longer you play the more you get trapped.
"I told Jim I was twice as smart as he was (both retired in '75), because it took me seven years to learn what it took him 14 to learn. We were both unemployed -- only I was 28 and he was 36."
"I used to wish George had a bigger ego," said Linda, "that he was more like Jim, that he'd play a few more years. Thank God he never listened to me."
In truth, Tyrer began preparing for a career beyond football long before his football career ended. But none of the several businesses he tried was successful, though not for his lack of trying.
"Jim might have been involved in too many things," Daney offered. "Last week he said he never gave some of them a fair chance, that one would be going pretty good, that just when it was starting to make money he'd pull out. He said: 'If only I'd stayed in.'
"He didn't say why he didn't."
Privately, friends suggest Tyrer was living beyond his means. He was living in a quarterback's house on lineman's wages his entire career -- and when he moved into a less expensive area after retirement it was still vastly superior to his peers' homes.
Did Tyrer really need such a house? Did he still have to shop at the most expensive stores? Did he still have to send each of his children to private school? To the last question, he and Martha answered a firm yes, in part because they had been dissatisfied with the public school system's lack of attention with two of their children.
But as Tyrer became deeper in debt he became qualified for jobs whose yearly income scarcely would pay for Tina's tuition at the University of Missouri and the private-school fees for the other three.
"The education of his kids was the most important thing to him," said Arbanas. "Jim and I played against each other in college, me at Michigan State and he at Ohio State, and we visited Dallas together in '60 (when the Chiefs were the Texans) and signed. We were roommates ever since, at the College All-Star game, for 10 years with the Chiefs. Off the field, our wives were great friends. We hunted together.
"We saw each other a couple times a week -- or we'd phone. Jim and I hardly ever talked about pro football when we got out. We'd talk Little League, or college ball, but rarely the pros.And we'd be hunting most Sundays during the season. Ducks and geese.
"His last businses was tires. It was going good until last December or January. I asked him while we were hunting how business was going and he said: 'Lousy.' The winter was too mild. Nobody was buying snow tires. And instead of new ones they were going out back and buying his best used ones.
"You can sit and generalize for the next 100 years and you won't know what made him do it. Martha's parents have moved into the house. They'll be taking care of the kids. And some of us (players) will be helping out. But it was the economy that got Jim. Football had nothing to do with what happened. He adjusted years ago to being out."
Others are not as certain. Friends he visited recently say Tyrer still was upset, more than six years later, at Stram handing his left tackle position to a rookie, Charlie Getty, in 1974 and giving him a cold alternative: retire or accept a trade to the Redskins. He chose the trade -- and spent the season injured and alone in Washington while Martha and the children stayed here.
There were whispers that Tyrer recently wanted to take some deferred money sooner than his contract called for and that the Chiefs were being difficult, as Hill said they had been with him a few years ago. The Chiefs denied it, saying that in fact Tyrer had very little money deferred until now -- and certainly not enough to cover more than a fraction of his debts.
This is a tragedy football will not soon forget. Nor should it be allowed to. Tyrer is the first player in memory to commit such an unfathomable act, buy hardly the first to fail miserably to adjust to a life for which his sport did not prepare him.
"We looked around the (memorial) service," said Linda Daney, "and saw a whole lot of others still living the free-and-easy. They still haven't made it. It's ironic. They all were together. Is that (pro football, the Super Bowl) such a high?"
In separate interviews, former players Hill and Daney said the NFL ought to provide psychiatric help to marginal players and stars beginning their descent, to make withdrawal as smooth as possible, to make them realize the fans who waited for their autographs will not be waiting for a job.
"For every year a man plays in the NFL," Daney said, "the NFL ought to give a year of psychiatric help. And any player who doesn't think he needs it should get two years of help. For every player who makes it financially and emotionally, 100 don't."
For the last two years, the league and players' association cooperated on a two-day program of career counseling for players. According to Owens, the league dropped its share this year, citing expenses ($700 per player) that other businesses consider relatively cheap.
"We have guys call here all the time with really dire needs," Owens said. "We haven't had anything like Tyrer. But we have had former players rob gas stations and rob drug stores. This (the counseling workshop) is a small program trying to deal with a big problem."
In the memorial service, Nissen alluded to Tyrer's experiencing higher highs and lower lows than nearly all of us. Alone the other day, he said Tyrer told him of his father's death. It was during a high-school basketball game, while Tyrer was shooting a free throw, that his father stood in the stands and fell dead with a heart attack.
Tyrer was 17 at the time, the same age as his eldest son, Bradley.
"We should be careful not to judge a whole life by the concluding events," Nissen said.
To friends the last week or so, Tyrer had dwelled on "Martha is the positive and I'm the negative." And that the children were so special. Yet he left them motherless.
There were so many contradictions, so much irony. The largest Chief was the weakest, the most outwardly secure the most inwardly bedeviled. The pride that made Tyrer a special football player may well have cost him his life.
Nissen touched a nerve throughout the athletic section of mourners when he quoted Paul as saying what they all sought: "I have learned to be content. I know how to be abased and I know how to abound in any and all circumstances. I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. . . ."