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He's No Saint

Lineman Kyle Turley's rough style of play has fans loving him, and opponents hating him

September 05, 2002|SAM FARMER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW ORLEANS — The young Saint ripped the helmet off a New York Jet defensive back and flung it across the field.

The old sinner once tried that on two Miami Dolphin linebackers at the same time, latching onto each of their facemasks and trying to unscrew their heads. It didn't work, so he threw his helmet in frustration.

The young Saint has the utmost respect for the old sinner: "Conrad Dobler made the Pro Bowl every year, and he played dirty, nasty."

The old sinner is really starting to like the young Saint: "Kyle Turley plays the game the way it's supposed to be played."

The young Saint figures he might be the most hated player in the NFL.

The old sinner never had a doubt.

Dobler, 51, who played guard for the St. Louis Cardinals, Saints and Bills from 1972 through '81, is widely considered the dirtiest player in NFL history. He punched, kicked, grabbed, twisted, and once used his mouth for something far more sinister than talking junk--he sank his teeth into the hand of a Minnesota Viking defender.

"I did bite his finger, but he was trying to gouge my eyes out," he said. "I just grabbed his hand and chomped down. But the legend has grown through the years. It's gone from a finger to a leg to a kneecap to an arm to a nose. Like I bit the guy's nose off! One would think I was related to Jeffrey Dahmer."

At least Dobler didn't wind up on a psychiatrist's couch the way Turley did last season after he gave Damien Robinson's helmet the heave-ho. Turley, a standout right tackle for the Saints, was fined $25,000 by the team and required to attend anger-management classes, a rich irony for a man paid millions to get Brahma-bull angry every Sunday. He reasons he was only protecting his quarterback, Aaron Brooks, whose head was getting the twist-off treatment under the pile by Robinson.

"People down here realize what I did was honorable," said Turley, 26, who has switched to left tackle this season. "Whereas in the politically correct areas, the major cities of the country, they viewed me as a menace. Whereas the true Americans, the grass-roots people of this great country, were like, 'This guy did an honorable thing here: he stood up for his teammate.' "

The heat Turley took was nothing compared to the praise he got from Saint fans, who instantly adopted the 6-foot-5, 300-pounder as their favorite player, if they hadn't done so already. They love his WWE look--flowing blond hair, wall-to-wall tattoos--and love the fact he skipped the Pro Bowl so he could appear as a celebrity guest in the Endymion Parade, a Mardi Gras tradition.

Turley, who was to replace injured Ram tackle Orlando Pace in Hawaii, instead rode through the French Quarter tossing not beads, but miniature football helmets to the crowd. His float was adored with American flags and Osama bin Laden's head on a stick. What could be better?

"I didn't make first-team NFL, but I made first-team Endymion," he said. "It was a huge honor."

Henry Ku, who works at Sports Avenue, a New Orleans store that sells official Saint gear, said he sells out of Turley jerseys several times a season--Turley and Brooks are the biggest sellers--and gets Turley orders from all over, including the Netherlands and Japan.

"It went crazy after that Jets game," said Ku, who keeps home, away and alternate (gold) Turley jerseys in stock, including the $250 authentic versions. Some of his customers are "Turley's Girlies," possibly the only groupies for an offensive lineman in NFL history

A crowd of 10,000 showed up in Thibodaux, La., to watch the Saints' annual Black-and-Gold scrimmage last month, and about half those people stuck around to collect autographs afterward. By far, Turley was the biggest draw; fans were dangling over the railings from break-neck heights just to get a glimpse of him up close.

"Basically, down here football is taken very seriously," Turley said. "These people are nuts for football. We've got people watching our one-on-one pass rush drills screaming, 'Let's go, Turley! Kill him!' You're just like, 'I'm at practice.' They're just so intense about football. It's wild to see."

Comedian Jay Mohr performed in New Orleans during Super Bowl week, and ticket sales picked up when Turley agreed to make a cameo. To the delight of his fans, Turley brought his guitar and sang a ribald song he wrote about the miseries of training camp.

Most of those lyrics are unprintable, as are many of the invectives Turley gives and receives on game day. A couple of years ago, San Diego defensive end Neil Smith told Turley he was going to "come down to New Orleans in the off-season and kill me and kill my family," Turley said. In the wake of last season's helmet-tossing episode, New England's Richard Seymour, then a rookie defensive tackle, warned Turley: "I'm not some defensive back for the Jets." Turley mocked him, repeating his words in a whiny, singsong voice.

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