Although the Raiders have returned to the NFL playoffs for the first time since 1985, tight end Mike Dyal hasn’t been able to rejoice with his teammates.
Dyal’s father, Tom, died of colon cancer on Dec. 21 at age 48. The illness was sudden and the end came quickly.
“It hit him like a sack of bricks,” Dyal said. “He found out in November and he lasted a month and a half.”
After learning that his father was terminally ill, Dyal returned home to Kerrville, Tex., and spent five days with his father at Thanksgiving.
“I didn’t know how to handle it or how he’d be handling it when I first went home,” Dyal said. “But it was really inspiring because he was so courageous and bold.
“He showed me so much strength. He wasn’t afraid. He knew he was going to heaven. It made me stronger as a person. That’s how I dealt with it because he was so strong through the whole thing.”
Tom Dyal hoped to see his son, sidelined for 13 games because of a hamstring injury, in action again before he died.
“The last thing he wanted to do was to see me play football again,” Mike Dyal said. "(It was) his main wish. . . . That’s all he wanted to do. And when I got activated against Denver and we had a Monday night game at Detroit the following week, I thought that would be it.”
However, Dyal reinjured himself and was unable to play in either game. “But,” he said, “it enabled me to go home again for Christmas when he passed away. And I’m glad I was there with the family.”
Dyal arrived home an hour after his father died.
“I’d been preparing myself for it over the month and a half that I knew, but you can never prepare yourself for something like that because I’d never dealt with something like that,” Dyal said.
Although he regrets that he wasn’t at his father’s side when the end came, he appreciates the time they spent together. “I’m just really thankful I got the time to spend with him before it happened,” Dyal said. “Now I’m ready to focus on playing football.”
Dyal was activated Thursday and will play in the Raiders’ AFC semifinal playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday at the Coliseum.
“It’s been a long year, not playing and watching these guys do some great things on the field,” Dyal said. “And I just want to be a part of it and contribute.”
The Raiders welcome Dyal’s return.
“Almost any time you lose a player like Mike Dyal, you miss him,” Coach Art Shell said. “But we didn’t lose a beat. Not to take anything away from Mike, but Ethan Horton stepped in and did an outstanding job. Ethan Horton has done a yeoman’s job. He’s played on more plays than anybody on our football team because he plays on special teams as well as tight end.
“But if we get Mike back, it’ll be a plus for us.”
Signed as a free agent out of Texas A&I; in 1988, Dyal became a starter last season after the Raiders waived Todd Christensen.
Dyal started every game in 1989, catching 27 passes for 499 yards and two touchdowns, the third-best record on the team behind wide receivers Mervyn Fernandez and Willie Gault. Dyal’s average of 18.5 yards a catch was the highest of any regular tight end in Raider history.
After playing well in exhibitions last summer, Dyal thought he could surpass his ’89 season. But he never got the chance. He missed 13 of 16 games with a hamstring injury sustained in the second game of the season.
“I don’t know how I got hurt,” Dyal said. “I guess I got stuck in an awkward position in the turf and my leg just got overstretched. I’d never pulled a muscle of this magnitude before.”
After sitting out nine games, Dyal returned in the Raiders’ 23-20 victory over the Broncos at Denver last month. But he pulled his hamstring again and sat out the final four games of the regular season.
In Dyal’s absence, Horton caught 33 passes for 404 yards and three touchdowns.
“Ethan has been playing excellent,” Dyal said. “He’s really improved as a tight end, and that’s just going to make me better in the long run and make this team better.”
Although Horton has played well, the Raiders have lacked a second tight end for use in running situations when they require extra blocking. Even tailback Marcus Allen has played tight end.
“It’s hard to say how much we missed Mike Dyal because Ethan did a good job filling in for him,” quarterback Jay Schroeder said. “But any time you lose a guy like Mike Dyal, there is going to be a little let off. Ethan has had to learn on the job, and that’s always tough, but if Mike can come back and help us for this stretch run, it’s going to be a big plus for us.”