Forty-one years ago, Marty Lyons was part of the great New York Jets defensive line that was nicknamed “The New York Sack Exchange.”
Already accomplished on the football field, the Jets’ first-round pick in 1979 out of the University of Alabama went through a week in March 1982 that was filled with a spectrum of emotions. His oldest son Rocky was born, his father Leo passed away, and a young boy to whom he was a big brother had died from leukemia.
Lyons then dedicated his life to making a difference in the lives of terminally ill children by teaming up with his teammate, Jets safety Ken Schroy, to start the Marty Lyons Foundation. The objective was to grant wishes to terminally ill children and about 41 years later, unfortunately, there is still a need to help families in need.
“The big question that we always find ourselves asking is why?” said Lyons. “Why are so many kids still getting sick? Why isn’t modern medicine doing its job? We don’t have that answer.”
As the search continues for answers, each year the foundation holds a series of special events, including the 37th annual golf outing at the Old Westbury Golf & Country Club.
Over its history, the Marty Lyons Foundation has expanded to 11 chapters covering 14 states. The foundation has granted wishes for 8,400 families, and by the end of this year, it will have generated over $42 million.
This year, the golf outing raised over $250,000.
“The foundation is 41 years old only because of people like yourself,” said Lyons to those in attendance at the reception Monday night. “Before we took the first swing, we had donations of $125,000.”
The day started with a breakfast followed by a shotgun start to a round of golf. After 18 holes, there was a cocktail hour, dinner, and a program to recognize some special people who have made significant contributions to the foundation.
One of them was Joe Klecko, Lyons’ teammate on the “Sack Exchange,” who was finally inducted earlier this month into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It was a no-brainer for Klecko to ask Lyons to present him at the enshrinement ceremony.
“They give you three minutes to talk about a 44-year relationship,” said Lyons. “This guy was a tremendous football player and a tremendous individual. When he asked me (to present him), I was very humbled and taken aback because Joe taught me a lot about the game of football.”
Klecko has always been there for Lyons, especially when it comes to the foundation.
“There becomes a kinship,” said Klecko during the reception. “Our friendship has grown beyond that. You can’t explain the experience that Marty Lyons has had raising money to help people in need. I just want to commend everyone here who stands up for the Marty Lyons Foundation.”
There were over 40 sports figures at the golf outing, including over 20 associated with the Jets. Many of those dignitaries were teammates of Lyons, including running back and kick returner Bruce Harper.
“I’m proud of Marty and what he’s been able to do for so many years,” said Harper. “To be invited, it’s a compliment and it says something about our relationship. It’s so good to come together and almost like being teammates again.”
Before he was a Jet, wide receiver Wayne Chrebet was playing college football at Hofstra University, where the Jets used to have their headquarters and hold their training camp. It was during Chrebet’s time with the Flying Dutchmen that he forged a relationship with Lyons.
“Marty is such a great guy and has such a great foundation,” said Chrebet. “Marty did the (Hofstra) games for Sports Channel, and we started our relationship there. He’s always been a fan of mine, and anything I can do to help him with such a great charity, I was going to make sure I got here.”
Other former Jets in attendance included cornerback Bobby Jackson, quarterback Vinnie Testaverde, linebacker Greg Buttle, and a pair of players from the Jets’ Super Bowl III team, center John Schmitt and linebacker Ralph Baker.
It was a star-studded day and night for a great cause that started over 40 years ago with a great man.
For more information about the Marty Lyons Foundation, please visit martylyonsfoundation.org.
Top: (L-R) Joe Klecko, Ken Schroy, and Marty Lyons at Old Westbury Golf and Country Club for a fundraiser. (Credit: Marty Lyons Foundation)