CARLISLE, Pa. -- When Lyle Alzado announced to the world this summer that he was dying of brain cancer caused by taking steroids and human growth hormone, Matt Millen was not exactly surprised.
In fact, Millen had predicted it years ago when they were teammates on the Los Angeles Raiders. Back then, it was common knowledge among players that Alzado, a maniacal defensive lineman, used performance-enhancing drugs.
"We used to jokingly say to Lyle, 'Don't invest your money, you're not going to live past 40,' " Millen recalled yesterday.
Today, Alzado, 42, wears a bandana to hide the hair loss he suffered from chemotherapy. Cancer has melted 60 pounds off his once herculean physique. He drags one leg when he walks and he is broke.
It is not a happy picture for Millen, 33. The 6-foot-2, 245-pound linebacker has no herculean build, yet will launch his 12th NFL season in Washington next month with the Redskins.
"I like Lyle, and I hope things all work out," Millen said. "But he went into it with his eyes open."
"I'm a believer in you reap what you sow . . . Howie Long, myself and Bill Pickel, we'd get on him about it. Lyle lived a hard life. It's unfortunate. It's almost like he knew it was going to happen."
Millen admitted that steroids were prevalent on the Raiders when Alzado played there, but not in the proportions suggested by Alzado.
Millen says he resisted the temptation to join Alzado because "I was too naive to know you could take them to get faster . . . I am what I am." And these days, whenever he has a speaking engagement, Millen makes a sales pitch for kids to avoid steroids.
"You tend to focus on the real freaks," he said. "But the game isn't played by freaks. It's played by Joe Montana and Jerry Rice and Art Monk and people like that.
"There is no pill and no injection you can take to give you ability. You play the game with ability. I tell that to kids all over the country. That's the point I try to hammer. You can't play this game just because you're bigger and stronger. If you're a stiff, you just become a bigger and stronger stiff."
No drug user, Millen is no stiff, either. He was a plugging inside vTC linebacker for nine years with the Raiders, winning two Super Bowls, before he was unceremoniously released in 1989. He won another Super Bowl ring with the San Francisco 49ers in '89, then was made available for Plan B free agency last winter because of his age and salary.
Millen, who grew up in Hokendauqua, Pa., wanted to be nearer his Pennsylvania home. When the Redskins expressed interest, they had a love match.
What the Redskins have in Millen, general manager Charley Casserly said, is an "aggressive player and a tough guy."
What's more, Millen is known as a player who speaks his mind, a much frowned on characteristic with the Redskins.
"I guess you'd classify me as kind of a non-conformist," Millen said. "I will always fit in with what you're doing. I just have a tendency to lose my mind occasionally."
For that reason, and the fact he is an excellent run-stopper, Millen appeared to be the quintessential Raider.
"Except for one major thing . . . I hated Los Angeles," he said. "Couldn't stand it. I tried to get traded. If the Raiders were back East, it was a match made in heaven. But it was out there. They can have that place."
Even though he made the Pro Bowl in 1988 for the only time in his career, Millen said he saw the end coming when new defensive coordinator Dave Adolph first addressed the unit in 1989. Let Millen tell the story:
"Dave Adolph walks around the room going, 'Mike Haynes, do you love football?' Mike goes, 'Yes, sir.'
" 'Vann McElroy, do you love football?' 'Yes, sir.'
"I'm over there going, oh, no. 'Matt Millen, do you love football?' I go, 'What, are you kidding me? This is my job. What am I supposed to do?' He says, 'This is not the answer I'm looking for.
" 'Howie Long, do you love football?' Howie goes, 'Hey, I don't work for IBM.' It was only going downhill from there."
The truth is, Millen does love football. That's why he's back for a 12th season, three Super Bowl rings snug in the safety deposit box back home. That's why he's working his way through the transition from inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense to middle linebacker in the Redskins' 4-3.
"I love to play, I love to compete," he said. "I love to watch film and see me still do things.
MA "And I like the fact I don't think anybody can block me yet."