Fight, Team, Fight!

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But amid the hoopla--the kind of attention Alzado always craved--there were some dissenting voices. Doctors said his type of cancer couldn't be definitely linked to steroid abuse. And Alzado's first wife, Cynthia, cut into the pity party to reveal what an abusive jerk Alzado had been.

"He could walk into the house after a game," she told reporters, "stop on a dime and, all of a sudden, he's grabbing my hair and throwing me across the room."

Once, she said, she left him and he lured her back with a white Rolls-Royce.
Whether or not his cancer was caused by the steroids, many people were certain that Alzado's manic, often nasty and violent behavior was. His old Broncos teammates recalled his inchoate rages. "He was always mad at someone or something," former guard Tom Glassic told the News. "I don't think he ever knew himself." Glassic, a Bronco from 1976 to 1983, divulged that the team's coaches didn't discourage steroid use. "Actually, it was kind of encouraged on the sly," he said. "Anything you could do to get bigger and stronger. The consequences weren't really considered. I can't say anybody on the staff specifically encouraged it, but in general the management put so much pressure on you to perform that if they found steroids in your system, they weren't going to say anything about it."

As his condition worsened toward the end of 1991, Alzado's celebrity friends planned to come to his rescue with a January 11, 1992, benefit for something called the Lyle Alzado National Steroid Education Program. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Steven Seagal, George Foreman, Pat Boone, Larry King, Mickey Rourke, Jerry Lee Lewis, Maria Shriver--all planned to attend the Beverly Hills gala. But two more tragedies struck: Alzado's business manager had a heart attack, and the gala was canceled at the very last second.

Alzado was crushed.
That May, the cancer finally killed him. He was only 43.

Perhaps no Bronco has slapped, slugged and screwed more women than The Vance. But he never kissed them.

Raging Bull may have been the last word in movies about domestic violence, but The Vance's self-published autobiography, published in 1994 just after his Bronco career ended, really hits home. On the field he was a speedy, graceful receiver who helped the Broncos land in three Super Bowls. Off the field, he beat women with his fists, his feet, golf clubs, cars and whatever else was handy.

Johnson's book was supposed to be an apology for his years of abusive behavior. But 90 percent of it is a proud and almost fond retelling of his thousands of sexual conquests. The Vance always knew how to turn around a bad situation and try to get sympathy. When he appeared naked on an HBO special on the NFL, Johnson threatened to sue. "Although I had shown my dick to a lot of women individually over the years," he wrote, "I was very embarrassed to have people all over the city and possibly the country talking about my dick."

In an appendix, Johnson lovingly listed the scores of flashy cars he'd owned. But as the late Greg Lopez noted in a News column about a Johnson book-signing party, The Vance couldn't remember the names of all the children he had fathered. (There are at least seven.) Johnson ended his book with the words, "I'm sorry." But in the rest of his book, Johnson never threw the first punch: He hit people after they hit him, and they would "trip" or "fall" or "run into" his foot.

He turned out to be the ultimate raging bullshitter.
"Being The Vance meant being a guy running around the city doing whatever he wanted to do," ex-Bronco Reggie Rivers, a Johnson confidante and ghostwriter, told a San Diego reporter. "Basically, it meant living the life of a 2-year-old rather than a 22-year-old."

With the fists of a 22-year-old.
Scenes from a life, courtesy of The Vance himself:
* While married to Chri, he threw a cassette case at her and cut her leg. She ran into the bedroom and cried. "I kept yelling at her to shut up. But every time I screamed at her, it made her cry even louder. Finally, I couldn't take it anymore. I ran into the bedroom with some paper, and shoved it into her mouth to muffle her crying."

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Ward Harkavy
Contact: Ward Harkavy