State Your Case: Jim Tyrer

Is Jim Tyrer a Hall Famer ignored, a murderous tragedy or both?


(Jim Tyrer photo courtesy of Kansas City Chiefs)

By Ron Borges

Talk of Fame Network

Perhaps no player not in the Hall of Fame has a stronger resume than former Kansas City Chiefs left tackle Jim Tyrer. Certainly no one would be considered a more controversial inductee, either.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame bylaws expressly forbid voters to consider anything but what a player has done on the field. One’s off-field problems are to be ignored, removing the kind of nebulous morals clause that so often confounds voters for the baseball Hall of Fame.

Yet there seems little doubt why a man widely believed to be not only the best offensive tackle in the history of the American Football League but the best of his time anywhere in pro football has been eligible for 36 years yet remains outside the walls of Canton’s halls.

According to Hall-of-Fame defensive end Elvin Bethea, Tyrer was not only the best tackle he ever faced but also an intimidating presence across the line of scrimmage.

“He was the best blocker I ever faced,’’ Bethea once said. “I used to try to run as fast as I could upfield to get around him, but it rarely worked. He was the preeminent left tackle in all of football. All other blockers I faced in the NFL were mediocre compared to him. He would just swamp me each game to where I would be lucky to beat him even once in a game."

This opinion from one of the finest defensive linemen in the game’s history, yet Tyrer has only once been debated despite being a nine-time Pro Bowl selection, six-time All-Pro and first-team left tackle on the American Football League’s All-Time team.

He was also a winner. The Chiefs won three AFL championships with Tyrer anchoring their line, twice reaching the Super Bowl and winning Super Bowl IV over the Minnesota Vikings on a day when Kansas City’s running game ran roughshod over Minnesota’s Purple People Eaters’ defense.

So what's kept Jim Tyrer out of the Hall of Fame? Certainly not his skills because Bethea’s assessment is widely held among those who faced him for the 13 years he played for the Chiefs (1961-73). So what was it?

Most likely it was the tragic circumstances of his death on September 15, 1980.

Tyrer was entering his sixth year of retirement in 1980, and they had not been easy ones. Although initially a successful traveling salesman after football, he tired of life on the road and began a series of business endeavors. All failed, leading to significant financial problems and, it is now believed, a likely battle with depression.

The day before his death he had taken his then 10-year-old son to watch the Chiefs lose, 17-16, to the Seattle Seahawks at Arrowhead Stadium. Someone who saw him that day would later lament that “instead of watching the game, Jim seemed to be staring at it.’’ No one noticed because Tyrer never complained about his problems. Everything was always “fine’’ but without elaboration.

Early the next morning, Tyrer awoke and murdered his wife and then turned a .38 caliber pistol on himself in their bedroom with several of their four children in the home at the time. One, then 17-year-old Bradley, hid under his bed for an hour fearing a home invasion after hearing the shots. Everyone in Kansas City and throughout football was shocked.

No one knew much then about depression then and nothing at all about CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy. The latter is the debilitating, degenerative brain disease found in nearly 100 retired football players in recent years after their deaths. It is a disease that leads to depression, anger, impaired judgment and volatile, irrational behavior. It is widely believed to be caused by the kind of repeated blows to the head that were a staple of the existence of Tyrer and the men who plied his violent trade.

In those days offensive linemen could not legally hold as they can today. Instead they were told to lead with their head, becoming a human battering ram. To combat that, defensive linemen were allowed to head slap, crashing their forearms into the side of a lineman’s helmet while often driving their fist up into their jaws and facemasks, snapping their necks back violently.

It was a savage business men like Jim Tyrer engaged in, and few if any did it better than he did.

Did that lead to the kind of brain damage that also felled Junior Seau, Mike Webster and so many others, as we now know? For Jim Tyrer, it’s far too late to tell, but one could certainly theorize it well might have been.

Despite the tragic and violent circumstances of his death, Tyrer was a Hall-of-Fame finalist in 1981, less than a year after the murder-suicide. He has never been discussed again. Why?

“If you could pick a prototype out of a Sears, Roebuck catalogue, Jim Tyrer would be it,’’ his Hall-of-Fame coach in Kansas City, Hank Stram, once said when describing Tyrer’s combination of size and athleticism.

“It is a travesty that Jim Tyrer has yet to be inducted into Canton," ex-Broncos' pass rusher and All-AFL selection Rich Jackson once said. "He was one of the first big offensive linemen with quick feet to play pro football. Besides having good feet, he was crafty and smart. Tyrer was the top offensive lineman I ever faced, and that included the AFL and NFL."

Does such a player belong in Canton? It would seem so. Does such a man whose life ended in violent tragedy belong? That is a difficult call, but as we learn more about the ravages of concussions and CTE and their debilitating effects on many ex-football players it is a question we need to ask.

According to the bylaws of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which excludes off-field matters by fiat, it would seem a debate over Jim Tyrer is long overdue. According to his resume alone, it wouldn’t seem to be much of a debate that his play long ago earned him a bust in Canton.

But then there were the gunshots and a family forever injured in a way nothing could ever change. Where does that leave Jim Tyrer nearly 36 years after that horrific moment?

That’s something each of you will have to decide for yourself.