FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Ted Hendricks tries to call Lyle Alzado almost every day. And almost every day, he says, the same thing happens.
He never talks to Alzado. Sometimes the phone just rings. Sometimes a busy signal for hours. Sometimes the number has been disconnected, like several previous ones in recent weeks, with an operator's harsh recording leaving no new number.
Then Hendricks starts all over again. He phones his old Raiders buddies. He compares numbers with them. He finds Alzado's more recent listing and hopes someone will answer this time. No one has.
"I've heard he doesn't want to talk to many people about this," Hendricks said Tuesday from his Miami Springs home. "But I want to talk to him. I have to talk to him before, well, you know . . . "
Before he dies?
"Yeah, before he dies."
Everyone wants to talk to Alzado today. Maria Shriver. Roy Firestone. Sports Illustrated. Fans. Friends. Teammates. An athlete who is dying proof of steroids' poison gets this spotlight attention.
But you have to wonder if the underlying theme of sympathy is proper for someone who considered himself so invulnerable, who built his life around this dark secret, who discarded medical advice and common sense and took drugs like candy to build a career of gold.
A public tragedy? Sorry. Not Alzado. He made a choice for 20 years. He lived well with it. Now he dies with it.
But private sympathy from those who know him is something he will get in abundance.
"I'll miss him like hell," Hendricks said.
Hendricks cried as he talked. And he laughed, too. It depended on the story.
"Hey, I got one for you!" he shouted, excited, and began about first meeting Alzado, who was a Denver Bronco then. Hendricks LTC challenged him to a fight on the field by drawing a line with his foot.
"Just like in the cartoons," he said. Alzado never crossed. "He just laughed at me."
Hendricks remembers Alzado tearing a New York Jets lineman's helmet off and throwing it at the Jet. And he remembers watching Alzado the other night.
"I was watching Wimbledon at home with some friends, and they put Lyle on and I just started to cry, like I am now," he said, his voice beginning to crack. "He was wearing that bandanna to cover his bald head from the chemo. Oh, God . . . Everyone said, 'Ted, that's so sad, your buddy's dying'and . . . I just . . . I couldn't . . . I . . . excuse me a second."
Three personified the Raiders' renegade personality of the late '70s and early '80s. The first is John Matuszak, who once walked into a bar with a woman on each shoulder during Super Bowl Week. He died of a drug overdose in 1989.
The second is Alzado, whom Sports Illustrated once called "the Meanest Man Alive." He is dying from drugs, too.
Hendricks is the third. The Mad Stork. A Hall of Famer. The last.
"I went to John's funeral. Now Lyle's terminal. I'll go to his, too."
Hendricks remembers Alzado as "a raging maniac," and he says it with affection, just as it has been written many times. But you now wonder if that was Alzado or the steroids.
"I didn't know he took steroids," Hendricks said.
Did he suspect?
He is told that that seems strange, working side-by-side with a guy for years and not suspecting anything.
"The surprise was seeing him on TV, looking like a shell of the man I knew, this big, muscular guy now so thin and sick," he said.
So Hendricks says he will keep trying to call Alzado. He wants to talk with him one more time. He needs to, he says. To say what?
"That's a tough question," Hendricks said. "I'll guess something like, 'Lyle, I'm proud of the way that you've conducted yourself.' And I'll thank him for sending that message out on steroids to all the kids. Right now, there's not a lot else to say."