Jekyll & Hyde He may be affable off the field, but on it, Saints All-Pro tackle Kyle Turley hasn't won any friends with his style of play

July 01, 2001

Threaten a man's life once, and, if that man is New Orleans Saints
tackle Kyle Turley, he'll more than likely let it go, for it
probably means that he has been pushing you all over the field,
allowing you nary a whiff of the New Orleans quarterback. So it
was last Sept. 10, when San Diego Chargers defensive end Neil
Smith, after a play in the second half of the Saints' 28-27 win
over the Chargers, approached a prostrate Turley and threatened
to "come down to New Orleans in the off-season and kill me and
kill my family," according to Turley. Having tossed Smith, a
six-time Pro Bowl player, around like a throw rug that day--Smith
wasn't credited with so much as an assist in spot duty--Turley
shrugged off Smith's invective with a laugh, chalking it up as
another rant from another frustrated defender.

Threaten a man's life twice, however, and, if that man is Kyle
Turley, you've got quite a piper to pay. So when Smith approached
Turley after the game and, according to Turley, reiterated his
threat, an incensed Turley morphed into the 6'5", 300-pound hulk
who's fast becoming the NFL's most menacing and, among his
opponents, most hated man. "Sorry, Neil, I don't have any family
in New Orleans, but you should still come over," Turley told
Smith. "I live at 4408 Rue Saint Peter. So you come on over, and
when you do, I'll slit your damn throat." (SI couldn't reach
Smith for comment.)

Months later, after hustling through Ontario (Calif.)
International Airport to board a plane bound for Las Vegas to
attend a friend's birthday celebration, Turley shakes his head at
the memory and says, "Neil Smith has been in the league for all
those years, and he's crying all game about this and that, then
he makes that lame threat twice? He's got no class. Crying to the
refs about how I was [cut-blocking] him or holding him--and, I
don't know, maybe I was, but that's football, man. I say, give me
my due if I've kicked your ass, because if you kick my a...."

He catches himself just as a matronly flight attendant delivers a
bag of peanuts. After a sheepish Turley thanks her profusely, she
drops a second bag into his lap. In that moment, the dichotomy of
Turley--equal parts gentleman caller and evil superhero,
cartoonishly blond-haired, blue-eyed and square-jawed--flashes to
life. "Kyle's a two-headed monster, because he's so nice off the
field, but on it he's as violent a player as I've seen," says New
Orleans offensive line coach Jack Henry, whose career as an
assistant dates to 1970. "He plays the game as it should be
played, all out. Of course, if he weren't on my team, I'd
probably hate him too."

Unlike former NFL guard Kevin Gogan--a middling talent who in 1998
was described on the cover of SI as the league's dirtiest
player--Turley, 25, is a devastating blocker who, along with
teammate William Roaf, the Baltimore Ravens' Jonathan Ogden, the
St. Louis Rams' Orlando Pace and the Jacksonville Jaguars' Tony
Boselli, is one of the league's elite tackles. Drawing on a
Southern California childhood spent skateboarding and surfing,
passions that, along with wrestling, kept him from organized
football until his senior year of high school, Turley has a
combination of footwork, balance and hand skill that's
exceptional. Last season, in a banner year for the Saints, who
wrested the NFC West from the defending Super Bowl champion Rams,
Turley earned first-team All-Pro honors. "He's not just a badass,
he's also a special player," says Henry of Turley, who allowed
one half a sack in 2000. "His flexibility and his leverage let us
do things on sweeps and rollouts we otherwise couldn't do, and
his pass-blocking is astounding."

Watch Turley over the course of a game, though, and it becomes
apparent why he didn't make the Pro Bowl. Despite earning 30 of
the 31 coaches' votes--a coach can't cast a ballot for one of his
players--Turley received no first-team votes from the league's
defensive units. Why? He's a lineman possessed who makes
constant, hyperaggressive forays downfield in search of second
and third hits.

"He's strong as an ox, with good quickness and great hands, and
he always plays hard," says Tennessee Titans defensive end Kevin
Carter, who faced Turley seven times while he was with the Rams,
"but he's underrated because of the dirty things he does. You
always have to watch out with him because he'll tattoo you, take
out your legs. He'll do the kind of stuff that can end your
career. That's why he doesn't get [Pro Bowl] votes. If you play
hard and clean, you get the votes."

Turley especially enjoys ambushing unsuspecting defenders
standing near a tackled New Orleans ballcarrier as he plays until
he hears what he calls "the echo of the whistle." (Indeed, the
nasty business with Smith intensified after Turley took a running
leap at Chargers safety Rodney Harrison as the whistle was
blowing.) "My coaches have preached that to me since high
school," says Turley. "Playing that way keeps me from injuries
because you get hurt when you're standing around a pile and
somebody gets thrown into you, or somebody rolls up your legs."

It came as little surprise, then, that Turley, the seventh pick
in the 1998 draft out of San Diego State, was pulled aside
during his second NFL season by Mike Ditka, New Orleans's coach
at the time. "Son, I love the way you play," Ditka said, "but
it's going to cost you a lot of money."

In fact, Turley has been fined only piddling sums four times,
and it bothers him that he's thought of as a dirty player. He
fancies himself merely a throwback, one who employs the cut
block (in which a lineman takes out the defender at the line of
scrimmage with a block around the feet) to brutal perfection.
"Guys cry all the time about cut-blocking," says Turley, "but
tough luck. It's legal, and until it's not, I'm going to use it.
Don't call me dirty just because I'm doing my job and you can't
make a tackle."

"Players don't like Kyle because most of them have lost that
nasty attitude guys used to have," says Saints center Jerry
Fontenot, a 12-year veteran. "Kyle plays with an abandon most
guys can't handle. Lots of times [defenders] will say across the
line, 'Hey, man, don't cut me,' and Kyle will just tell them
where they can go."

While not admitting to any deliberate acts of wanton violence,
Turley has found himself in the middle of more outlandish
free-for-alls than the Rock. Most notable was the Brawl at the
Falls, a training-camp melee in August 1999 between the Saints
and the Kansas City Chiefs at K.C.'s River Falls, Wis., practice
facility. During the morning session of the teams' first joint
practice, Turley came to blows with Kansas City defensive
linemen Ty Parten and Chester McGlockton, which led to no fewer
than four bench-clearing skirmishes and more than a dozen other
incidents by day's end. Tensions ran so high that security
guards were assigned to the cafeteria for the teams' evening
meal, although the Saints didn't stick around that long, and the
following day's scrimmage was canceled. To a man, the Chiefs
blamed Turley, but he says, "They cheap-shotted Ricky [Williams,
then a rookie running back for New Orleans], so I stood up for
my guy. Then it got out of hand."

"At first, I thought Kyle was to blame, but I saw the tapes, and
he was just outworking everyone," says Gunther Cunningham, Kansas
City's coach at the time. "To him, every play was like the Super
Bowl. He's a guy the other team worries about, and that's a huge
psychological advantage for him. He plays for keeps--he's so
tough, he must live in a cellar by himself. They should change
his last name to Nagurski."

Turley's bucking Bronko act began at San Diego State, where game
officials often implored his good friend and linemate Ephraim
Salaam to muzzle Turley, lest he be ejected. "He'd always be
screaming, which was funny because his voice gets real whiny when
he yells," says Salaam, a third-year Atlanta Falcons lineman who
concedes that his defensive teammates despise Turley. "I'd tell
him to stop being such a vocal leader. But as crazy as he is,
he's that cool off the field. He's the most generous guy I know,
the mellowest. He was an art history major who surfed all the
time and who happened to play football."

A bright and thoughtful conversationalist, Turley steered the
discussion during the trip to Las Vegas from classic cars to the
Dead Sea Scrolls to the speed-metal band Pantera to high school
shootings to religious extremism. Given his impulsive nature,
Turley is, not surprisingly, an opinionated guy: "I say, bring
back the good old-fashioned fistfight on the playground. I think
kids are so scared of getting expelled that they don't say
anything about conflict until it's too late, when they don't
care anymore if they get kicked out. Then they start showing up
with guns."

A little later: "So I'm Mormon, and so what? It's what I believe,
but it's not all I am. The problem with religion is that people
take it, whatever it may be, to the point where it completely
dictates their life. That's when things get scary. After what
I've been through, ironclad beliefs don't seem so healthy these

This is as close as Turley will come to discussing a hurt so
overpowering that it nearly incapacitated him last season: After
the dissolution of his marriage in July 2000, he did not see his
infant daughter, Haley, for nine months. Friends tell of a doting
father who was so devastated last August that he lost 20 pounds
in a week and didn't sleep for more than a couple of hours each
night until the season began. Fontenot, Turley's best friend on
the Saints, points to Turley's performance last year as testament
to his character. "He could've gone crazy," says Fontenot, "but
he channeled the hurt, which was unbearable for him, and used it
to his advantage." On a mid-April day Turley finally had reason
to rejoice. Following a divorce settlement with his former wife,
Kelly, that includes generous visitation rights for Kyle, he saw
Haley again.

"It was nerve-racking," says Turley of waiting for Haley at a
Southern California restaurant. When the car driven by a nanny
arrived, Turley strode to the backseat, passenger-side window and
saw his teary-eyed daughter staring back with her baby blues,
"wondering who this beast was," he says. He allowed himself a few
tears, but not wanting Haley to grow concerned at the sight of
him crying, smiled at her and, during the ride to his lawyer's
house for an hourlong visit, gave her a stuffed bunny. Because
she is, after all, a Turley, she promptly set about trying to
tear its ears off. "She's so beautiful now," he says. "She's
gotten so big, and she can already walk so well. She tore around
the house."

As the visit drew to a close, Turley--eager to leave Haley with a
memory she might remember him by for the next visit three weeks
later--shook his head back and forth while saying "doe-doe" in a
singsongy voice. "She doesn't call me Daddy yet," he says, his
voice catching in his throat, "but for now Doe-doe will do just

As the plane begins its descent into Las Vegas, Turley explains
how playing last season helped him get through his marital
dispute. "That's why I love this game," he says. "It lets me
release all my violent, primal tendencies. How many people would
kill to do what I do, running around with reckless abandon,
letting go? There's nothing I like more"--his voice drops to
whisper--"than kicking ass. It makes me feel alive."

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY ROBERT BECK COLOR PHOTO: MICHAEL HEBERT Branded Turley won't apologize for the way he plays, saying, "Don't call me dirty because I'm doing my job and you can't make a tackle." COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK Riding the wave Turley started late in football, but his surfboard experiences go back to his childhood days in California.

"He plays for keeps," says Cunningham. They should change his
name to Nagurski."

"So I'm Mormon, and so what?" says Turley. "It's what I believe,
but it's not all I am."

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