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Remember ex-Rams offensive lineman Kyle Turley? The longhaired, tattooed guy with all those anger-management issues? The man who once got so pissed off, he tore the helmet off a guy's head and flung it across the field?
Oh yeah, that Kyle Turley — the irascible, political, combustible, 310-pound player who made the Pro Bowl in New Orleans, Louisiana, and then signed a $26.5 million contract with the Rams in 2003. He was quickly christened a fan favorite for his on-field intensity and off-field candor, and he helped lead that year's Rams team into the playoffs.
The Utah-born son of a Mormon cop is back on the road and will be rolling into Dallas this weekend, just in time for the Super Bowl. But this time, he's reincarnated as a musician, touring in support of his new album, Anger Management.
"Yeah, I got anger issues," says the 35-year-old Turley, referencing his many scuffles over the years — with players, coaches, NFL execs and now with the health gods. "There ain't too many heroes out there. You can call it anger if you want, but I call it being a person. When I see something that's not right, I'm going to make it right."
The outlaw Ram, of course, didn't last long in this town after that promising 2003 season. A few months later he underwent surgery for a herniated disc in his back, but re-aggravated the injury during summer training camp and was forced out of the 2004 season. Then, after a much-publicized altercation with head coach Mike Martz, which resulted in the skipper claiming he was threatened, Turley was on his way out. The Pro Bowler never healed from his injuries and slunk through a couple of lackluster years with the Kansas City Chiefs before retiring.
Refusing to walk away quietly, though, Turley quickly channeled his indomitable energy into his music, which is best described as "power country," influenced by old-school country, heavy metal, Southern rock and punk rock. The pigskinner had always been glued to his guitar, even during his football career, and often performed at charity benefits around New Orleans and St. Louis.
After retiring and moving to Nashville, Tennessee, with his wife and child, in 2006 he started the label Gridiron Records. Turley toured with Hank Williams III, and in early 2010 released Anger Management. The album ranked as high as Nos. 69 and 17 on the iTunes and Amazon MP3 country charts, respectively; it also charted No. 8 on Billboard's Heat Seekers/South Central chart.
His lyrics touch on a range of themes, including raucous behavior, poignant emotions and, perhaps most notably, his days in the NFL. One of his song titles, "Flyin' Helmets," references the feat that made him famous: In 2001 during a pileup after a quarterback-keeper when Turley was with the New Orleans Saints, he noticed New York Jets defender Damien Robinson tugging harshly at the face mask of New Orleans quarterback Aaron Brooks — clearly a cheap shot that could have led to a neck injury. Enraged, Turley lunged at Robinson, grabbed his helmet and ripped it off. He then hurled it across the field, discus-style, and, with the look of a mad man, made an up-yours gesture to the crowd.
For that act he received $45,000 in fines and a slew of anger-management classes. But from fans across the country who consider it the sole job of an offensive lineman to protect his quarterback, he received immediate adoration.
One of those fans, Lois Linton, who runs Broadway Truck Centers in Soulard with her husband, has never forgotten that gesture. When Turley arrived in St. Louis from New Orleans, Linton arranged to loan the player an SUV, an honor reserved for one Ram a year. "I knew he was a force to be reckoned with, but I loved him so much more when he was on our side," recalls Linton, whose office is still plastered with autographed Turley photos and a Jets helmet that reads, "Anger Management: It really works."
But not all Turley memories are so happy. In "Flyin' Helmets," Turley takes a shot at Martz, whom he blames for ruining his career: "And fuck Mike Martz/I never really liked him anyway," he croons.
The lyrics are the result of an imbroglio Turley had with Martz during the 2004 season, when Turley was on the injured-reserved list for his herniated disc. Martz had called him into his office and suggested he wasn't serious about getting better. According to Turley, Martz accused him of coming to St. Louis to "take the money and run."
Turley took offense. Things got heated. The coach filed a complaint with NFL security. "There was never evidence of anything physical, but it got quite hot and livid when Martz said what he said," recalls Howard Balzer, sports-talk-radio personality for KFNS (590 AM). A year later, neither coach nor player was employed by the Rams. Ever since then, Turley has denied making a threat.
The ex-player believes he was rushed back to the field too soon by Martz, which caused him to aggravate his injury and permanently kill his chance of a comeback. "He did do his best to derail my career," says Turley of Martz, now the offensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears. "I was injured, and he was a coach who didn't understand what that meant."
But mostly, Rams fans remember Turley for the happier days in 2003, when the rock & roll lineman, fresh off his fat contract, was the toast of the town. He'd leave his Ladue residence to spend time at his favorite hangouts — the Pageant and the since-shuttered Mississippi Nights — and do local jam sessions with acquaintances. (This included his current manager, Tim Pickett, who worked with EMI; Pickett met Turley through mutual friends on the Rams.) Turley also did charity concerts at the Ameristar Casino in St. Charles and played alongside bigger names such as 3 Doors Down for Monday Night Football.
Turley says he still loves the St. Louis area, mainly for its knowledgeable fan base and hard-working citizens. "They're amazing," he says. "It's unfortunate that I couldn't finish my career there. I really wanted to. That was the plan." He says he'll soon do a remix of the song "Ram It."
Besides music, his other main focus these days is fighting for the rights of retired NFL players with traumatic head injuries. He has teamed with Mike Ditka to support the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund, which provides financial help and social services to NFL vets in dire straits, in large part because of health issues. He has testified before Congress and donated heaps of cash to troubled vets, whose health conditions have in some cases led to homelessness and suicide.
"You think the NFL cares about concussions?" Turley asks. "I don't think so. They've known about this since the '80s and haven't said anything. They say football has nothing to do with traumatic brain injury. [Commissioner] Roger Goodell and his medical staff say this. Well, go down to the courts when people are applying for disability and being denied."
Turley knows what it means to be in those players' shoes, because he's walked in them. Having suffered from dozens of NFL-related concussions by his estimate, he's been diagnosed with a form of brain damage called chronic traumatic encephalopathy. He gets constant headaches and has battled vertigo, memory loss and speech problems on top of anxiety and depression. He's on anti-seizure medicine to keep things in check.
But despite all this, Turley is able to shelve his issues and just celebrate his days as a football player — and the good times he had in St. Louis. After all, "We Ride," his recent single, includes a quick mention of "St. Louie."