Jadeveon Clowney-LT talk is lunacy
Ashley FoxESPN WriterClose
- ESPN.com NFL columnist
- Joined ESPN in 2011
- Also worked at Sports Illustrated, Philadelphia Inquirer and Louisville Courier-Journal
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Carl Banks calls it his "rude awakening."
It was 1984. He was the third overall pick in the draft out of Michigan State, where he had been a three-time All-Big Ten selection at linebacker and first-team All-America.
On the first day of practice, Banks walked into the Giants' locker room and introduced himself to veteran linebackers Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson.
Carson looked at a smiling Taylor, then turned to Banks and said, "What the hell are you going to do to get on the football field?"
"I knew I didn't have it figured out," Banks said.
Few, if any, rookies do. Banks began to figure it out later that day when he saw the 6-foot-3, 237-pound Taylor work in practice as if a game were on the line.
Because he played with Taylor for nine seasons and saw firsthand the speed at which Taylor practiced and the skill with which he rushed the passer, Banks thinks it is lunacy to even mention former South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney in the same breath as Taylor. It is grossly unfair to Clowney. And, Banks said, it is reckless.
He is right.
There is always pre-draft hype this time of year, but casually comparing any prospect to Taylor is foolish. Taylor is the greatest defensive player in the history of the National Football League. He was a three-time defensive player of the year and the only rookie ever to win that award. Taylor was named All-Pro in eight of his first nine seasons. He is one of only two defensive players ever to be named the league's MVP.
Like Michael Jordan is in basketball or Tiger Woods is in golf, Taylor is the standard in football for defensive players. He changed the game. He won two Super Bowls. He was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Most of all, Taylor accomplished all he did because he saw the game differently than everyone else. He was always a step ahead. He faced countless double- and triple-teams, and it didn't matter. He would come to the sideline after a series and tell the Giants' coaches exactly how the opponent was trying to pass protect and how they could best counter it. And Taylor practiced at a speed few players played at on game days, let alone in midweek drills when score wasn't being kept.
Clowney is supposed to be that? He hasn't put on an NFL uniform yet. He hasn't played a snap. Clowney is the most talented prospect in the draft, sure, but the next Lawrence Taylor? Please.
"No. 1, you're stepping over a lot of great defensive ends," said Banks, now a Giants broadcaster. "They should hope he's as good as a Richard Dent, Neil Smith, Bruce Smith or Charles Haley. If he can get to that level, he's a dominant player. But you want to jump over those players and say he's the next Lawrence Taylor? It's ridiculous. I just gave you four of the greatest defensive ends, and you don't want to put him in that category because he's already better than them?"
Banks' point is well taken. Two of the players he mentioned -- Bruce Smith and Dent -- are in the Hall of Fame. Haley has been a finalist each of the past five years. Neil Smith racked up 104½ career sacks in 12 seasons and was named to six Pro Bowls.
Clowney might turn out to be as good as them. He might turn out to be as good as Taylor. But it is premature to project him into either stratosphere, given the relatively small body of work he produced in college, often against competition that will not make it to the next level.
Why not pump the brakes and let him try to be the best Jadeveon Clowney he can be?
Banks brought up another point. The rules governing practice now are much different than when he, Taylor and the others played. There are fewer practices in training camp. There is less hitting. Once the regular season starts, there are a limited number of practices in pads. Most work is done in the form of glorified walk-throughs.
The Clowney Conundrum
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — I don’t have the answer on Jadeveon Clowney, who looked like such a can’t-miss prospect Monday at the NFL Scouting Combine. No one does.
Clowney had one sack in his last 33 college quarters of football. That just confounds me. It bothers me, and how can GM Rick Smith and coach Bill O’Brien, sitting in Houston with the top pick in the draft, watch the performance they watched in Indianapolis, with Clowney showing ridiculous speed and athleticism for such a big man, and not wonder, “Did this man really get one sack in the last 600 or so snaps of his college life? What is wrong with this picture?” On the one hand, Smith and O’Brien have to think of Clowney and J.J. Watt tormenting the AFC South for the next six to eight years. On the other, they have zero questions about Watt’s desire, and probably a hundred about Clowney’s.
I covered Lawrence Taylor for four seasons of his New Jersey prime, 1985 through 1988. He’s the best pure pass-rusher I’ve ever seen. Clowney is two inches taller and 23 pounds heavier than Taylor was, plays stronger from the look of the tape, and Clowney’s 40-yard-dash time basically matches Taylor’s—4.53 seconds.
Stats aren’t everything. And sacks are overrated. But Clowney had one sack and three passes defensed in his last eight games. He had nagging injuries, and South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has openly questioned Clowney's work ethic. People have been quick to pooh-pooh Spurrier’s criticism, because Spurrier failed so spectacularly as the Washington coach when he had his NFL chance. But Spurrier was around Clowney every day. You weren’t. I wasn’t. Does he have an axe to grind? I suppose he might, but why would he? No, I take Spurrier’s comments seriously, and so should Clowney. And so should the teams at the top of this draft.
I mention Taylor because I believe being great as a pass-rusher and pulverizing the quarterback got him out of bed in the morning. And he was a sick, sick competitor. In 1988, the Giants were without Phil Simms, Harry Carson and Carl Banks for a crucial game at New Orleans, and there was absolutely no way Taylor should have played in the game; he had a partially torn pectoral muscle and torn shoulder ligaments, and he played with a harness strapping his upper left arm tight to his torso. Taylor had three sacks, two forced fumbles and seven tackles. Giants, 13-12.
But that’s not the best I’ve seen Taylor. That happened in a replacement game in 1987. The players were on strike, and the league fielded bush-leaguers so the owners wouldn’t have to refund TV fees. With the Giants 0-4, Taylor crossed the picket line and tried to beat the Bills by himself, playing both ways, linebacker and tight end. Buffalo lined up a truck driver from Illinois, Joe Schulte, to block Taylor. Schulte was called for seven penalties on Taylor. In the second half, with the refs not watching, LT drove his fist into Schulte's throat. "How do you like that, sucker!'' Taylor snarled at him. The Giants lost, but owner Wellington Mara thought it was Taylor's best game as a pro.
Jadeveon Clowney dazzled the NFL with a blazing 4.53 40 but his choice to skip certain drills, combined with an underwhelming performance in the bench press, left more questions than answers. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
My point: Can Clowney have that kind of rare desire, or even 75 percent of it? Can he play through the pain when his team really needs him?
I came here Monday to speak to a couple of Penn State classes, and afterward was able to spend some time with new football coach James Franklin. In the past two seasons at Vanderbilt, Franklin game-planned for Clowney in the SEC twice and Clowney made his share of plays, getting three sacks. I asked Franklin if he saw a consistent force when Vanderbilt prepped for Clowney.
“He’s a once-in-a-lifetime talent,’’ Franklin said in his office at the Penn State football facility. “Although people are going to look at the film and say it’s a risk, it may be a risk worth taking.”
That’s the rub: “may be.” You take a guy that high, you want it to be “will be.”
Said Franklin: “I coached in the ACC when Julius Peppers was at North Carolina, so in a lot of ways I was thinking there was similarities between him and Clowney. With Peppers, we always felt like you were better off running at him, not away. He was so athletic, he could run you down. I remember two years ago, we took the same approach with Clowney. We said we’re going to try to get him to rush up the field and then get a guard or somebody to kick him out and then that would be a great plan. I’ll tell you what: He destroyed us. Physically destroyed us. Running at him, running away from him.
“Teams would try to take him out of the game by tempo and try to wear him down physically, playing fast, which you saw early this year. I don’t think there’s any doubt that he was probably the most game-planned against player in the country, from that perspective. And I think he’s unbelievably gifted."
So now we wait. Teams send the scouts and assistant coaches with the investigative-reporter gene to Columbia, S.C., to dig into Clowney’s work habits and his love of the game, and they watch the tape, and they see how hard he played consistently. Where Clowney goes, and who takes him, could be a bigger story in the draft than where Johnny Football goes.
Now on to your email:
The 49ers are 36-11-1 in three seasons under Jim Harbaugh, who has also guided San Francisco to a 5-3 record in the playoffs. (Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
HECK OF A POINT, BUT ...Jim Harbaugh's first three years with the previously underperforming 49ers have been at least as good as anyone expected and most of the recent coverage has been supportive of a pricey extension. However, aren't you surprised there hasn't been more blowback since he has two years left on his contract, received $25 million guaranteed and is said to be asking for more than several Super Bowl-winning coaches make (such as his brother John or his archrival Pete Carroll)? Would the same sportswriters be as supportive of a similarly successful and combative player wanting to renegotiate after three years of a five-year deal?
It’s not really the sportswriters who matter here. The team engaged in contract-extension talks with him, and the two sides couldn’t reach a deal. The fact is, the team would like to keep Harbaugh and adjust his contract, and so I don’t think it’s a very big deal what we think in this case.
I AM AWARE OF THE GOOD AND THE BAD OF JOE PATERNO, YES.You took a picture of yourself outside the Paterno library and posted it on Twitter? You should be ashamed of yourself. I suggest you wake up and read the Freeh Report some time, then re-read it if you still don't get it.
Thanks, Adam. I am not willing to consign a man like Joe Paterno to a legacy of total disgrace because he didn’t do the right thing on Jerry Sandusky.
Got a question for Peter? Send it with your name and hometown to [email protected] and it might be included in next Tuesday's mailbag.
ANIL THINKS I AM WRONG ABOUT SLURS.
What is and isn’t a slur? If you only enforce penalties on use of the n-word, then is it okay to call Manti Te’o a slur? As an Indian person, I would be offended that the n-word is banned but being called a towelhead isn’t. What about a new slur that comes up? Will there be a list? When will it be updated? Will the refs have to memorize it? Lastly, what constitutes a slur? If the ref says ‘Redskins ball’ should he be booted from the game or fined because enough people consider that just as offensive as the n-word?’
Some words in the United States evoke rage and extreme anger. Not many. The n-word is one of those words. If other words enraged and offended the American public the way the n-word does, I am sure the league would consider banning them. How can the league anticipate words the vast majority of those in the game and the stands have never heard used? Regarding the Washington team name, it’s clear there is a dispute about whether the name is a slur or not. There is no dispute that the n-word is a slur.
ON THE LIONS AND TAYLOR LEWAN.Okay, I’ll bite: Why an offensive tackle to the Lions instead of a wide receiver/cornerback/safety? Heck, even a linebacker makes more sense.
Putting Taylor Lewan 10th was more a fit for a player who I think will go in the top 10 than a player fitting a team right now. In a fruitless exercise like that one, it’s more important to me to get the right players in the slot than to match perfectly team to player, particularly 2.5 months before the draft.
WOMEN NEED TO BE RESPECTED.One thing that struck me about the whole Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin affair and came to the fore again with the Ray Rice video is how the released texts and tweets showed the really poor opinion and treatment of women by the players. I think this is an under-reported aspect of the Incognito story. These two recent high profile cases, and maybe add in the Darren Sharper rape accusations, make me think that there should be some coverage of the attitude towards women and the culture that supports it.
Well put, Brian. Thanks.
By David Whitley
Special to ESPN.com
Lawrence Taylor has been called a lot of things -- the best defensive player in NFL history, L.T., reckless, Superman. But from his first days of high school football in Williamsburg, Va., he wouldn't allow anybody to call him one thing: Larry.
|Lawrence Taylor benefitted from playing with a total disregard for his body.|
That was a name for golf pros or bowlers or anyone whose life's work included the element of restraint. Lawrence Taylor did not become the most feared player in pro football by letting himself be controlled.
"I guess that I'm just a plain wild dude," he said early in his career.
Taylor's motto seemed to be live fast, perhaps die young, and leave a trail of battered quarterbacks in your wake. He was technically listed as an outside linebacker, but he was more like a force of nature. After being unleashed on the NFL in 1981, Taylor's unparalleled will and wildness spurred the New York Giants to two Super Bowl titles.
In 1986 he recorded a career-high 20 1/2 sacks and was the league's MVP, becoming the first defensive player to win the award since Minnesota's Alan Page in 1971. Taylor didn't just play the game, he revolutionized it. The greatest linebackers had always played the middle. Guys like Ray Nitschke and Dick Butkus, who patrolled the trenches like Dobermans.
Taylor created the outside linebacker position in his own image. He was 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds of athletic fury, a Butkus with wheels. Fast enough to cover receivers, strong enough to bully offensive linemen, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. And heaven help any quarterback who got in his way.
With his 142 sacks, L.T. ranks among the all-time leaders.
"Lawrence Taylor, defensively, has had as big an impact as any player I've ever seen," former Raiders coach John Madden said. "He changed the way defense is played, the way pass-rushing is played, the way linebackers play and the way offenses block linebackers."
Taylor played and lived on the edge. For all his physical gifts, his greatest strength may have been his mind. Taylor was an adrenaline junkie who willed himself to do things mere mortals would not consider.
"What makes L.T. so great, what makes him so aggressive, is his total disregard for his body," said Bill Belichick, the Giants' defensive coordinator during Taylor's prime.
The wildness that made him a magnificent football player often streaked into his personal life. He battled substance-abuse problems during and after his career, unable to bring his appetite for destruction under control. He became the image he had been working on from his early football days.
Taylor was born on Feb. 4, 1959 in Williamsburg. He didn't begin playing football in high school until his junior year. Lafayette High Coach Mel Jones recruited him "out of the hallway because he was big."
Taylor was not highly recruited out of high school. He played defensive line for his first two seasons at North Carolina, but it didn't take that long for the Tar Heels to realize they had something special.
"As a freshman playing on special teams, he'd jump a good six or seven feet in the air to block a punt, then land on the back of his neck," said North Carolina assistant coach Bobby Cale. "He was reckless, just reckless."
Taylor was nicknamed "Godzilla," not so much for the way he played as the way he lived.
"We'd always joke him about how he wasn't getting respect at this bar downtown," said his roommate, Steve Streater. "So one night Lawrence walked into the bar and busted up everything -- chairs, glasses, everything. That's what he thought it took to gain respect."
With that attitude, respect came quickly in the NFL. The Giants drafted Taylor with the No. 2 overall pick in 1981. In his first training camp, teammates were calling him Superman and considered replacing his locker with a phone booth. He had 9 1/2 sacks in his first of 10 straight All-Pro seasons.
Not only was Taylor dominant, he had an actor's sense of timing. When the game was at its most dramatic stage, Taylor would take over. He became New York's greatest off-Broadway hit.
"There comes a time in a game when you know a key play is coming up," Taylor said. "You can just feel it in the air. There are guys who shun those moments. It's like in basketball. There are guys who want to shoot that last shot, and others who want to pass off. I want that last shot."
Before games against Washington, Giants coach Bill Parcells would tell Taylor the Redskins didn't think he could play anymore. No matter how often he'd heard it, the tactic always worked.
Taylor was part of arguably the most gruesome televised moment in NFL history. He crashed in and landed on the back of Joe Theismann's knee on a "Monday Night Football" game in 1985. The Redskins quarterback's shin snapped forward like it had a hinge in the middle. Taylor immediately jumped up and started motioning for help.
"It's not a moment I want to remember," he said, "or see again."
Taylor's reaction was a little odd considering the threshold he had for his own pain. He once suffered a concussion, and the Giants trainer had to hide his helmet to keep him from going back in the game.
He suffered a hairline fracture of his right tibia against San Francisco in 1987 and played the next week. He broke a bone in his foot in 1989 and missed only one game. Maybe his greatest "No Pain, No Gain" performance came in 1988 at New Orleans.
The Saints were 9-3 and the Giants were playing without quarterback Phil Simms and All-Pro linebackers Harry Carson and Carl Banks, both injured. Taylor had torn shoulder ligaments and a detached pectoral muscle, but he strapped on a harness and had seven tackles, including three sacks, and two forced fumbles. The Giants won, 13-12.
Taylor once said playing in pain was simply a matter of tricking yourself into believing you aren't hurt. He could convince himself of almost anything, including his own invincibility. But when you live on the edge, even the strongest eventually fall off.
He was once asked what he could do that no other outside linebacker could.
"Drink," Taylor said.
But Taylor's problems ran deeper than alcohol. He admitted to cocaine abuse in 1985. He said he switched his addiction to golf, which he called his "detox tank," and putted his way through rehabilitation. He was suspended for 30 days in 1988 for failing a drug test.
He came back from that and helped the Giants win the 1991 Super Bowl. Not even Taylor could will himself to completely overcome a ruptured Achilles tendon in 1992. He played one more season before retiring at age 34 and facing life without a perfect outlet for his personality.
"I live my life in the fast lane," he said, "and I always have."
Taylor entered drug rehab twice in 1995. Then he was arrested two times in three years on charges he tried to buy cocaine. Getting out of the fast lane has been difficult for a man who did everything at full speed.
"In 30 or 40 years, I'm going to take out the tapes and show them to my grandkids," running back Keith Byars said. "To show them I really played against Lawrence Taylor. The greatest."
Byars will tell them one thing: "That he was everything they said he was."
For better and worse, L.T. was many things. But he was never just a Larry.
Current NFL Stars Who Once Dominated the Scouting Combine
Odell Beckham Jr.'s 2017 season is best forgotten, as he failed to hit 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his career. He had just 25 catches for 302 yards and three touchdowns in four games before a fractured ankle cut short his fourth campaign in the NFL.
Still, that does nothing to diminish a career that has elevated Beckham to among the league's best wide receivers.
And it began—wait for it—at the 2014 combine.
That year's draft was everything 2013's wasn't.
As Chris Trapasso reported for Bleacher Report at the time, Beckham showed off his blazing speed in Indy, laying down an unofficial 4.31-second 40-yard dash (tops among wide receivers) that included a ridiculous 1.50-second 10-yard split.
Beckham also starred in position drills.
"He cruised through the gauntlet, short sideline, intermediate dig and deep route drills with no drops and made all the catches comfortably away from this body," Trapasso wrote. "With a scintillating 40 time and phenomenally soft hands, Odell Beckham Jr. likely won't last into the second round."
Sure enough, not only was Beckham was a first-round pick in 2014, but he also didn't make it out of the top 15. The New York Giants selected the former LSU star 12th overall.
Beckham got off to a slow start, missing the first four games of his professional career with a bad hammy. In Week 9 (his fourth contest), however, he exploded with eight catches for 156 yards. By season's end, Beckham had topped 1,300 receiving yards and scored 12 times. He was named the 2014 Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Beckham hasn't looked back since, earning Pro Bowl trips in his first three NFL seasons and second-team All-Pro nods in 2015 and 2016.
And oh yeah—there was this.
Combine lawrence taylor
40 years later: Lawrence Taylor and Giants were fated in 1981 NFL Draft
Forty years ago this week, the Giants made the most impactful draft pick in their history.
Also 40 years ago this week, that player asked them not to.
It’s just one of the ways the union between the Giants and Lawrence Taylor — an often rocky marriage that turned around a foundering franchise, produced a pair of Super Bowl titles and gave the organization its greatest player — was nearly scuttled before it came together.
Looking back from four decades later, the most impressive aspect of the Giants’ use of the second overall pick in the 1981 draft is not that they had the foresight to pick Taylor but that they overcame all of the obstacles — running over and around them much the way Taylor would against potential blockers for the next 13 seasons — to select a player who would bring them so much success yet also so much heartbreak.
It’s as if Taylor was always destined to be a Giant.
But on April 27, 1981, the day before the draft, Taylor felt otherwise. That’s when he and his agent fired off a pair of telegrams to Giants general manager George Young and head coach Ray Perkins, telling them that if they selected Taylor, he would not play for them.
In the weeks leading up to the pick, as Taylor became more and more of a potential target for the Giants, many players on the team began to grumble about his potential arrival. They felt they already had a pretty good defense, and some of the veterans voiced agitation that some hot-shot rookie would walk into the locker room with a million-dollar contract, making more money than they were. There even was talk of a walkout by the established players if the team selected Taylor.
Feeling unwelcome before he even arrived, Taylor sent those strongly worded messages.
The reaction of the Giants’ brass?
"We drafted him anyway," Bill Parcells, then the Giants’ first-year defensive coordinator and one of the coaches who scouted Taylor, told Newsday. "That’s what the reaction was."
Taylor quickly apologized for his threat.
"I don’t want to cause any problems with the team," Taylor told reporters once he was selected by the Giants. "I told Coach Perkins that it was a mistake on my part to send the telegram."
He still had to win over his teammates, though. For that, all he had to do was take the field.
"He had agility, speed, quickness," Harry Carson, then the dean of Giants linebackers, recalled of first seeing Taylor in action. "When we got into the actual drills, we got to see firsthand why the Giants chose him . . . He went from like third team to first team before the first practice was over."
"The players welcomed him," Parcells recalled. "That was one thing with the Giants. They were for anybody who could help. That’s the way it was the whole time I was there. You can help, come on in. If you can’t, get out."
Up to the Saints
The Giants had the second pick in the 1981 draft, which meant they had to wait and see if Taylor would even be available. The Saints and their new head coach, Bum Phillips, had the first pick. They liked Taylor. But they had other ideas about how to rebuild their team. For that, the Giants can thank a Hall of Fame running back.
"We had some success in Houston because we had Earl Campbell," then-Saints defensive coordinator and future NFL head coach Wade Phillips -- Bum’s son, who had come to New Orleans from the Oilers with his father -- told Newsday. "I think that was a big part of it. My dad wanted to run the football and has just had Earl and we had a lot of success, so I think he wanted to follow the same pattern."
For that reason, the Saints selected running back George Rogers, the Heisman Trophy winner out of South Carolina.
Not everyone associated with the Giants at the time celebrated the opportunity that decision brought to the team. John Mara is now the co-owner, president and CEO of the Giants, but in 1981, he was practicing law and not working for the organization. Still, he was the oldest son of owner Wellington Mara, so he was paying as much attention as he could to the proceedings.
"I remember walking over to the ballroom of the Sheraton in Manhattan and standing at our table waiting for the pick," Mara said. "I remember foolishly hoping we would take George Rogers because we had no running back at the time and we desperately needed a running back and I had seen him on TV. I had never seen this linebacker from North Carolina everybody was talking about, I had never seen him play. So Rogers gets taken, we take Lawrence, and I remember feeling kind of ambivalent about it at the time. I remember George [Young] saying, when I asked him about it at the time, he said: ‘Just wait and see.’ And sure enough, he becomes the greatest player in the history of the franchise."
The Saints had no regrets. Taylor had a strong debut for the Giants, winning defensive rookie of the year, but Rogers was named offensive rookie of the year after rushing for an NFL-best 1,674 yards.
Though the Saints were impressed by Taylor, Wade Phillips said they had about six linebackers they liked near the top of that draft. By the time they were on the clock for their second-round pick, only one of them was left: Rickey Jackson.
"He’s in the Hall of Fame too," Phillips noted. "So we didn’t do too bad there, either."
Other players selected that year had Hall of Fame careers and led their organizations to titles: Ronnie Lott, Mike Singletary, Howie Long and Russ Grimm all made the journey from 1981 draft picks to Super Bowl champs to Canton. Kenny Easley, the fourth overall pick after the Jets took Freeman McNeil third, never won a Super Bowl, but he landed in the Hall of Fame, too.
But none of them had anything close to the immediate or long-term impact Taylor had on the Giants and, eventually, the NFL.
‘He just took off’
In 1981, the Giants had not been to the postseason in 17 years, had shuffled around the metropolitan area like nomads — calling Shea Stadium, the Yale Bowl and eventually a slab of cement in the middle of Jersey swampland their home — and were coming off a miserable 4-12 season. Taylor almost singlehandedly changed that.
"He just took off," Parcells said. "He was causing trouble right away."
He infused Giants Stadium with life, led the team to a 9-7 record with a defense that allowed the third-fewest points in the league, had 9.5 sacks (although they would not become an official NFL stat until the following year), helped them reach the playoffs for the first time since 1963, and even led them to their first postseason victory since a 1958 win over the Browns. That was just a week before the overtime loss to the Colts in the NFL championship game, known better as "The Greatest Game Ever Played."
Taylor became the cornerstone of teams that won the Super Bowl after the 1986 and 1990 seasons, redefined the way the linebacker position was played, and was one of the most ferocious players in league history. All of that was ahead for him and the Giants in 1981, but there were glimpses of that greatness throughout his rookie year.
"I still have never seen anything quite like that," Mara said.
Neither had Gil Brandt
Mara might have had to witness it all from a different vantage point had fate veered off course just a little bit before the draft. There was at least one other franchise just as determined to land the young game-changer . . . the Dallas Cowboys.
As the defensive coordinator, it was Parcells’ job to scout and write reports on all of the linebackers in the 1981 draft. One in particular caught his eye.
"He played on the right side for North Carolina in what we call an under defense and he was involved in the pass rush the majority of the time, even though he was playing in an upright stance," Parcells said of his first impressions of Taylor, the player to whom he soon would become so tightly linked. "He was primarily an off-tackle defender pass-rush guy and he did have some experience on pass defense because they did drop him in coverage, but I would say not very often. He wasn’t a total projection, but looking at him, experience-wise, I felt like he was going to need some work on pass defense."
Still, Parcells was impressed.
"He was very explosive," he said. "He was fast and he was explosive and he looked like he was strong."
The Giants weren’t going to draft Taylor based solely on the reports of their young defensive coordinator, though.
"I had just gotten there, so Ray Perkins trusted me," Parcells said, "but I don’t think too many other people did."
The man making the pick needed to see for himself.
On Nov. 8, 1980, Young traveled to South Carolina to watch Taylor and his UNC team face Clemson. Seated next to him in Death Valley was Cowboys general manager Gil Brandt.
"That particular day, Taylor was unbelievable," Brandt said. "He made plays all over the field. He made tackles on the line of scrimmage, behind the line of scrimmage, 10 yards downfield, 20 yards downfield. He made one play where he was lined up on the defensive left side and made a tackle on a running back 25 yards down the field on the right side, catching him from behind.
"It was like a man from Mars playing. It was unbelievable how he played."
The next day, the Giants and Cowboys happened to be playing each other, and Young and Brandt wound up on the same flight back to New York. Two of the most animated and loquacious executives in the league sat across the aisle from each other on the plane . . . in complete silence.
"Neither one of us said a word about the game we’d just witnessed," Brandt said. "It was a situation where two people recognized that the other person wanted someone and both were trying to outfox the other."
That cat-and-mouse game didn’t end when the flight landed.
For the next few months, Brandt worked hard to trade up to the top spot in the draft so he could select Taylor. The Cowboys had the 26th overall selection, but Brandt offered Bum Phillips all of his 1981 picks for that prized first one. Because the Saints already had 17 picks in that draft, they refused.
Brandt became a Hall of Famer himself, but for the rest of his career (he retired in 1988), his Cowboys had to face Taylor twice a season with the knowledge of how close they had come to landing him themselves.
"You’re never more disappointed than with the one that got away," Brandt said.
Still, on the morning of the draft, the Giants were concerned that the Saints would change their mind. When they had trouble reaching Taylor by phone, they feared the worst and started calling hotels in the Dallas area looking for him. At one point, they found a guest registered as "Larry Taylor" and connected with him, but it turned out to be a traveler with a coincidental name.
Eventually, they found the real Lawrence Taylor, who was not in Dallas. And they drafted him.
It was, unfortunately, not the last time they would have to search for Taylor.
The down side
While Perkins would call Taylor one of the "cleanest" players he’d ever scouted, the linebacker’s off-the-field life soon was among the most sordid in team history. In 1987, Taylor tested positive for cocaine use, and in 1988, he failed a second drug test that led to a 30-day suspension from the NFL. His lifestyle of addiction and recklessness brought him, as the title of his autobiography aptly put it, "Over the Edge".
His career was a paradox. Despite all the headaches he gave the Giants, he also brought unrivaled excitement and success to the franchise. He returned a dormant brand to glory, sometimes simultaneously sullying the organization.
He retired after the 1993 season with 1,089 tackles, 132.5 official sacks (plus those 9.5 unofficial ones from 1981), nine interceptions, 33 forced fumbles and a starring role in some of the most indelible images in Giants history, but the most memorable headlines he created often had little to do with his football playing.
Had the Giants known such demons existed inside Taylor in 1981, would they have drafted him?
It likely would have been just one more crevasse for the two to bridge 40 years ago, because with the benefit of hindsight, it is so clear they were always meant to be together.
With Bob Glauber
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For other people named Lawrence Taylor, see Lawrence Taylor (disambiguation).
American football player
Taylor in 2009
|Born:|| (1959-02-04) February 4, 1959 (age 62)|
|Height:||6 ft 3 in (1.91 m)|
|Weight:||237 lb (108 kg)|
|NFL Draft:||1981 / Round: 1 / Pick: 2|
|Player stats at NFL.com|
Pro Football Hall of Fame
Lawrence Julius Taylor (born February 4, 1959), nicknamed "L.T.", is an American former professional football player who spent his entire career as a linebacker for the New York Giants (1981–1993) in the National Football League (NFL).
After an All-American career at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1978–1981), Taylor was drafted by the Giants as the second overall selection in the 1981 NFL Draft. Although controversy surrounded the selection due to Taylor's contract demands, the two sides quickly resolved the issue. Taylor won several defensive awards after his rookie season. Taylor is both the first and currently only NFL player to win the AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year award in his rookie season. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, Taylor was a disruptive force at outside linebacker, and is credited with changing defensive game plans, defensive pass rushing schemes, offensive line blocking schemes, and offensive formations used in the NFL. Taylor produced double-digit sacks each season from 1984 through 1990, including a career-high of 20.5 in 1986. He also won a record three AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards and was named the league's Most Valuable Player (MVP) for his performance during the 1986 season. Taylor is one of only two defensive players in the history of the NFL to have ever won the NFL MVP award (the other one being Alan Page in 1971) and no defensive player has won since him. He was named First-team All-Pro in eight of his first ten seasons, and Second-team All-Pro in the other two. Taylor was a key member of the Giants' defense, nicknamed "The Big Blue Wrecking Crew", that led New York to victories in Super BowlsXXI and XXV. During the 1980s, Taylor, fellow linebackers Carl Banks, Gary Reasons, Brad Van Pelt, Brian Kelley, Pepper Johnson, and Hall of Famer Harry Carson gave the Giants linebacking corps a reputation as one of the best in the NFL. He is widely regarded as the best defensive player of his generation, and the greatest defensive player of all time.
Taylor has lived a controversial lifestyle, during and after his playing career. He admitted to using drugs such as cocaine as early as his second year in the NFL, and was suspended for 30 days in 1988 by the league for failing drug tests. His drug abuse escalated after his retirement, and he was jailed three times for attempted drug possession. From 1998 to 2009, Taylor lived a sober, drug-free life. He worked as a color commentator on sporting events after his retirement, and pursued a career as an actor. His personal life came under public scrutiny in 2010 when he was arrested for having sex with a 16-year-old girl. After he pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct and patronizing a prostitute, Taylor was registered as a low-risk sex offender.
Early life & career
Lawrence Taylor was the first of three sons born to Clarence and Iris Taylor in Williamsburg, Virginia. His father worked as a dispatcher at the Newport News shipyards, while his mother was a schoolteacher. Referred to as Lonnie by his family, Taylor was a mischievous youth. His mother said that "[h]e was a challenging child. Where the other two boys would ask for permission to do stuff, Lonnie ... would just do it, and when you found out about it, he would give you a big story." Taylor concentrated on baseball as a youth, in which he played the position of catcher, and only began playing football at the advanced age of fifteen. He did not play organized high school football until the following year (eleventh grade), and was not heavily recruited coming out of high school.
After graduating from Lafayette High School in 1977, Taylor attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he was a team captain, and wore No. 98. Originally recruited as a defensive lineman, Taylor switched to linebacker before the 1979 season. He had 16 sacks in his final year there (1980), and set numerous defensive records. He was recognized as a consensus first-team All-American and the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year in 1980. While there the coaching staff marveled at his intense, reckless style of play. "As a freshman playing on special teams, he'd jump a good six or seven feet in the air to block a punt, then land on the back of his neck", said North Carolina assistant coach Bobby Cale. "He was reckless, just reckless." UNC later retired Taylor's jersey.[failed verification]
1981 NFL Draft and training camp
In the 1981 NFL Draft, Taylor was drafted by the NFL's New York Giants in the first round as the 2nd pick overall. In a poll of NFL General Managers (GMs) taken before the draft 26 of the league's 28 GMs said if they had the first selection they would select Taylor. One of the two GMs who said they would not take Taylor was Bum Phillips, who had just been hired as coach and general manager by the New Orleans Saints. As fate would have it for Taylor, the Saints were also the team who had the first pick in the draft. Giants GM George Young predicted before the draft that he would be better than NFL legends such as Dick Butkus: "Taylor is the best college linebacker I've ever seen. Sure, I saw Dick Butkus play. There's no doubt in my mind about Taylor. He's bigger and stronger than Butkus was. On the blitz, he's devastating."
On draft day, Phillips made good on his promise not to draft Taylor and the Saints instead selected Heisman Trophy-winning halfback George Rogers with the first pick, leaving the Giants with the decision of whether to select Taylor. To the raucous approval of the crowd in attendance at the draft (which was held in New York City), the Giants selected him. Privately, Taylor was hesitant about playing for New York as he had hoped to be drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, and was unimpressed with a tour of Giants Stadium he was taken on, after the draft. Publicly, however, he expressed excitement about the opportunity to play in the city. Taylor changed his stance after he was drafted as Harry Carson made a point to reach out to him, and Taylor said he "talked to some players and coaches" and "got things straightened out." One of the factors that the Giants said they considered in selecting Taylor was his solid reputation. "He was the cleanest player in the draft. By that I mean there was no rap on him", said head coach Ray Perkins. "Great potential as a linebacker, a fine young man, free of injuries." Taylor chose to wear number 56 because he was a fan of Cowboys linebacker Thomas Henderson. As it would turn out, Taylor would have the longer and more successful career while Rogers, although successful in his own right with several 1,000-yard rushing seasons and two Pro Bowl selections, was injury-prone and forced to retire following the 1987 season with the Washington Redskins.
Taylor's talent was evident from the start of training camp. Reports came out of the Giants training compound of the exploits of the new phenom. Taylor's teammates took to calling him Superman and joked that his locker should be replaced with a phone booth.Phil Simms, the team's quarterback, said, "on the pass rush, he's an animal. He's either going to run around you or over you. With his quickness, he's full speed after two steps." Taylor made his NFL exhibition debut on August 8, 1981, recording 2 sacks in the Giants' 23–7 win over the Chicago Bears. Before the season word spread around the league about Taylor. Years after facing him in an exhibition game, Pittsburgh SteelersQuarterbackTerry Bradshaw recalled, "[h]e dang-near killed me, I just kept saying, 'Who is this guy?' He kept coming from my blind side and just ripped my ribs to pieces."
Taylor developed what has been termed a "love-hate relationship" with Bill Parcells who was the team's defensive coordinator when he was drafted, and would later become their head coach. Parcells often rode players in the hopes of driving them to better performance. Taylor did not appreciate this approach, and early on told Parcells, "I've had enough. You either cut me or trade me but get the fuck off my back." Parcells kept on Taylor, but privately told some veterans, "I like that LT. That motherfucker's got a mean streak."
Early career: 1981–1985
Taylor made his NFL regular season debut on September 6, 1981, in a 24–10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Aside from incurring a penalty for a late hit on Eagles running back Perry Harrington, Taylor played a nondescript game. In a game versus the St. Louis Cardinals later in the season, Taylor rushed and sacked the passer when he was supposed to drop into coverage. When told by Parcells that was not what he was assigned to do on that play, and that what he did was not in the playbook, Taylor responded "Well, we better put it in on Monday, because that play's a dandy." He recorded 9.5 sacks in 1981, and his rookie season is considered one of the best in NFL history. He was named 1981's NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, making him as of 2020[update] the only rookie to win an Offensive or Defensive Player of the Year award. Taylor's arrival helped the Giants defense reduce their points allowed from 425 points in 1980 to 257 in 1981. They finished the season 9–7, up five games from the previous season, and advanced to the NFL divisional playoffs, where they lost 38–24 to the eventual Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers. The San Francisco win was due partly to a new tactic 49ers coach Bill Walsh used to slow Taylor. Walsh assigned guardJohn Ayers, the team's best blocker, to block Taylor and, although Taylor still recorded a sack and three tackles, he was not as effective as normal. In contrast to his on-field success Taylor was already developing a reputation for recklessness off the field; after nearly getting killed during the season when his speeding resulted in a car crash, Young told the team's trainer he would be surprised if the linebacker lived past the age of 30, and the Giants insured Taylor's life for $2 million.
The 1982 NFL season, which was shortened to nine regular season games by a players strike, included one of the more memorable plays of Taylor's career. In the nationally televised Thanksgiving Day game against the Detroit Lions, the teams were tied 6–6 early in the fourth quarter, when the Lions drove deep into New York territory. Lions quarterback Gary Danielson dropped back to pass and threw the ball out to his left toward the sidelines. Taylor ran in front of the intended receiver, intercepted the pass, and returned it 97 yards for a touchdown. This play was indicative of Taylor's unusual combination, even for a linebacker, of power with speed. He was again named Defensive Player of the Year.
After the 1982 season, Perkins became head coach of the University of Alabama and the Giants hired Parcells to replace him. In the coming years this change proved crucial to the Giants and Taylor. Leading up to the 1983 season, Taylor engaged in a training camp holdout that lasted three weeks and ended when he came back to the team under his old contract with three games left in the preseason.
Although Taylor recorded nine sacks and made the All-Pro team for the third consecutive season in 1983, the Giants struggled. The team went 3–12–1, and Parcells received heavy criticism from fans and the media. Taylor was forced to play inside linebacker for part of the season, a position which allowed him fewer pass rushing opportunities, when Carson was injured. Despite this change, Taylor made the 1983 All-Pro Team at both outside linebacker and inside linebacker, becoming the first first-team All-Pro in NFL History selected for two positions in the same year. Frustrated by the losing, Taylor began acting out by arriving late for meetings, and not participating in conditioning drills in practice. After the season, Taylor was involved in a fight for his services between the Giants and the New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League. Taylor was given a $1 million interest-free, 25-year loan by Generals owner Donald Trump on December 14, 1983, with the provision that he begin playing in the USFL in 1988. Taylor regretted the decision, and less than a month later attempted to renege. His agent was able to negotiate by meeting with Trump personally and then the Giants which resulted in allowing Taylor to go with the Giants. Taylor got a 6-year, $6.55 million package that also included a $1 million interest-free loan. The main results of these negotiations were threefold: 1) Taylor returned the $1 million to Trump, 2) the Giants paid Trump $750,000 over the next five seasons, and 3) the Giants gave Taylor a new six-year, $6.2 million contract.
The Giants' record rebounded to 9–7 in 1984, and Taylor had his fourth All-Pro season. He got off to a quick start, recording four sacks in a September game. In the playoffs the Giants defeated the Los Angeles Rams 16–13, but lost 21–10 to the eventual champion 49ers.
In contrast to the previous season the Giants headed into the 1985 season with a sense of optimism after their successful 1984 campaign and a 5–0 pre-season record. The Giants went 10–6, and Taylor spearheaded a defense that led the NFL in sacks with 68. Taylor had 13. One of the more memorable plays of his career occurred during this season. On a Monday Night Football game against the Redskins, Taylor's sack of Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann inadvertently resulted in a compound fracture of Theismann's right leg. After the sack, a distraught Taylor screamed for paramedics to attend to Theismann. Although this sack ended Theismann's career, Theismann has never blamed Taylor for the injury. Taylor says he has never seen video of the play and never wants to. During the first round of the playoffs, the Giants defeated the defending champion 49ers 17–3, but lost to the eventual champion Chicago Bears in the second round 21–0.
Mid-career and championships: 1986–1990
In 1986, Taylor had one of the most successful seasons by a defensive player in the history of the NFL. He recorded a league-leading 20.5 sacks and became one of just two defensive players to win the NFL Most Valuable Player award and the only defensive player to be the unanimous selection for MVP. He also was named Defensive Player of the Year for the third time. The Giants finished the season 14–2 and outscored San Francisco and Washington by a combined score of 66–3 in the NFC playoffs. He appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated alone the week leading up to Super Bowl XXI with a warning from the magazine to the Denver Broncos regarding Taylor. The Giants overcame a slow start in Super Bowl XXI to defeat Denver 39–20. Taylor made a key touchdown preventing tackle on a goal line play in the first half, stopping Broncos quarterback John Elway as he sprinted out on a rollout.
With the Super Bowl win, Taylor capped off an unprecedented start to his career. After six years, he had been named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award (1981), NFL Defensive Player of the Year a record three times (1981, 1982, 1986), First-team All-Pro six times, become the first defensive player in NFL history unanimously voted the league's MVP (1986), and led his team to a championship (1986). After the win, however, Taylor felt let down rather than elated. Taylor said:
When the Super Bowl was over ... Everyone was so excited, but by then I felt deflated. I'd won every award, had my best season, finally won the Super Bowl. I was on top of the world right? So what could be next? Nothing. The thrill is the chase to get to the top. Every day the excitement builds and builds and builds, and then when you're finally there and the game is over ... And then, nothing.
The Giants appeared to have a bright future coming off their 1986 championship season as they were one of the younger teams in the league. They struggled the next season however, falling to 6–9 in the strike-shortened 1987 season. Taylor caused strife in the locker room when he broke the picket line after early struggles by the team. He explained his decision by saying "The Giants are losing. And I'm losing $60,000 a week." He finished the season as the team leader in sacks with 12 in 12 games played, but missed a game due to a hamstring injury, ending his consecutive games played streak at 106.
The Giants looked to rebound to their championship ways in 1988 but the start of the season was marred by controversy surrounding Taylor. He tested positive for cocaine and was suspended by the league for thirty days, as it was his second violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy. The first result in 1987 had been kept private and was not known to the public at the time. He was kept away from the press during this period and checked himself into rehab in early September. Taylor's over-the-edge lifestyle was becoming an increasing concern for fans and team officials. This was especially true given the eventual career paths of talented players like Hollywood Henderson and others whose drug problems derailed their careers. The Giants went 2–2 in the games Taylor missed. When Taylor returned he was his usual dominant self as he led the team in sacks again, with 15.5 in 12 games played. The season also contained some of the more memorable moments of Taylor's career. In a crucial late-season game with playoff implications against the New Orleans Saints, Taylor played through a torn pectoral muscle to record seven tackles, three sacks, and two forced fumbles. Taylor's presence in the lineup was important as the Giants' offense was having trouble mounting drives, and was dominated in time of possession. Television cameras repeatedly cut to the sidelines to show him in extreme physical pain as he was being attended to by the Giants staff. Taylor had already developed a reputation for playing through pain; in a 1983 game against the Eagles the team's training staff had to hide his helmet to prevent the injured Taylor from returning to the field. Taylor's shoulder was so injured that he had to wear a harness to keep it in its place. The Giants held on for a 13–12 win, and Parcells later called Taylor's performance "[t]he greatest game I ever saw." However, the Giants narrowly missed the playoffs in 1988 at 10–6 by losing tie-breakers with the Eagles in their division and the Rams for the Wild card.
In 1989, Taylor recorded 15 sacks. He was forced to play the latter portion of the season with a fractured tibia, suffered in a 34–24 loss to the 49ers in week 12, which caused him to sit out the second half of several games. Despite his off-the-field problems, Taylor remained popular among his teammates and was voted defensive co-captain along with Carl Banks. The two filled the defensive captain's spot vacated by the retired Harry Carson. The retirement of the nine-time Pro Bowler Carson, broke up the Giants linebacker corps of Carson, Reasons, Banks, and Taylor, which spearheaded the team's defense nicknamed the "Big Blue Wrecking Crew" in the 1980s. The Giants went 12–4, and advanced to the playoffs. In an exciting, down-to-the-wire game, the Rams eliminated the Giants 19–13 in the first round, despite Taylor's two sacks and one forced fumble.
Taylor held out of training camp before the 1990 season, demanding a new contract with a salary of $2 million per year. Talks dragged into September with neither side budging, and as the season approached Taylor received fines at the rate of $2,500 a day. He signed a three-year $5 million contract (making him the highest paid defensive player in the league) just four days before the season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles. Despite sitting out training camp and the preseason, Taylor recorded three sacks and a forced fumble against the Eagles. He finished with 10.5 sacks and earned his 10th Pro Bowl in as many years, although the season marked the first time in Taylor's career that he was not selected First-Team All-Pro. The Giants started out 10 – 0 and finished with a 13–3 record. In the playoffs, the Giants defeated the Bears 31–3, and faced the rival 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. The Giants won 15–13, after Taylor beat two successive blocks by 49ers TE Brent Jones and RB Tom Rathman to get into the 49ers offensive backfield to be in position to recover a key fumble forced by NT Erik Howard late in the game to set up Matt Bahr's game-winning field goal. In Super Bowl XXV, they played the Buffalo Bills and won one of the more entertaining Super Bowls in history, 20-19, after Buffalo's Scott Norwood missed a potential game-winning field goal in the closing seconds of the game.
Final years and decline: 1991–1993
Following the 1990 season, Parcells, with whom Taylor had become very close, retired, and the team was taken over by Ray Handley. 1991 marked a steep decline in Taylor's production. It became the first season in his career in which he failed to make the Pro Bowl squad, after setting a then record by making it in his first ten years in the league. Taylor finished with 7 sacks in 14 games and the Giants defense, while still respectable, was no longer one of the top units in the league.
Taylor rebounded in the early stages of what many thought would be his final season in 1992. Through close to nine games, Taylor was on pace for 10 sacks and the Giants were 5–4. However, a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered in a game on November 8, 1992, against Green Bay sidelined him for the final seven games, during which the team went 1–6. Before the injury Taylor had missed only four games due to injury in his 12-year career. Throughout the 1992 season, and the ensuing offseason, Taylor was noncommittal about his future, alternately saying he might retire, then later hinting he wanted a longer-term contract.
Taylor returned for the 1993 season enticed by the chance to play with a new coach (Dan Reeves), and determined not to end his career due to an injury. The Giants had a resurgent season in 1993. They finished 11–5, and competed for the top NFC playoff seed. Taylor finished with 6 sacks, and the Giants defense led the NFL in fewest points allowed. They defeated the Minnesota Vikings 17–10 in the opening round of the playoffs. The next week on January 15, 1994, in what would be Taylor's final game, the Giants were beaten 44–3 by the San Francisco 49ers. As the game came to a conclusion, television cameras drew in close on Taylor who was crying. He announced his retirement at the post-game press conference saying, "I think it's time for me to retire. I've done everything I can do. I've been to Super Bowls. I've been to playoffs. I've done things that other people haven't been able to do in this game before. After 13 years, it's time for me to go."
Taylor ended his career with 1,089 tackles, 132.5 sacks (not counting the 9.5 sacks he recorded as a rookie because sacks did not become an official statistic until 1982), nine interceptions, 134 return yards, two touchdowns, 33 forced fumbles, 11 fumble recoveries, and 34 fumble return yards.
Lawrence Taylor, defensively, has had as big an impact as any player I've ever seen. He changed the way defense is played, the way pass-rushing is played, the way linebackers play and the way offenses block linebackers.
— John Madden
Taylor is considered one of the best players to ever play in the NFL, and has been ranked as the top defensive player in league history by news outlets, media members, former players and coaches. He has also been described as one of the most "feared" and "intimidating" players in NFL history. Taylor's explosive speed and power is credited with changing the position of outside linebacker from a "read and react" type of position to a more attacking, aggressive position.
Washington Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs developed the two tight end offense and the position of H-back to prevent Taylor from blitzing into the backfield unhindered. "We had to try in some way have a special game plan just for Lawrence Taylor. Now you didn't do that very often in this league but I think he's one person that we learned the lesson the hard way. We lost ball games." His skills changed the way offensive coaches blocked linebackers. In the late '70s and early '80s, a blitzing linebacker was picked up by a running back. However, these players were no match for Taylor. The tactic employed by San Francisco 49ers head coach Bill Walsh in the 1982 playoffs, using an offensive guard to block Taylor, was copied around the league. However, this left a hole in pass protection that a blitzing middle linebacker could exploit. Later, Walsh and other coaches began using offensive tackles to block Taylor. Later it became common for offensive linemen to pick up blitzing linebackers. In addition to the changes in offensive schemes Taylor influenced, he also introduced new defensive techniques to the game such as chopping the ball out of the quarterback's hands rather than tackling him.
Drug and lifestyle problems
For me, crazy as it seems, there is a real relationship between wild, reckless abandon off the field and being that way on the field.
— Taylor in 1987
Taylor began using illicit drugs during his professional rookie season, 1981–1982. He would pass the NFL's drug tests, however, by routinely obtaining his teammates' urine to submit as his own urine samples.
As his drug habit escalated, he would spend up to thousands of dollars a day on "coke and women." His first wife, Linda, once had to pick him up from a crack house. And he once attended a team meeting still handcuffed the night before by some "ladies that were trying out some new equipment", but "just didn't happen to have the key," he would recall.
In 1987, he finally tested positive for cocaine, and admitted to using it. The next year, 1988, he failed a second drug test, whereupon the NFL suspended him for 30 days. With that, he abstained from drugs until his 1993 retirement, as a third failed drug test would end his career. Yet he would later recall that in retiring, "I saw blow as the only bright spot in my future."
During 1995, he went through drug rehab twice. But over the next three years, he was arrested twice, via undercover police officers, for attempts to buy cocaine. Meanwhile, he associated mainly with drug users, and his home usually had white sheets over its windows. "I had gotten really bad. I mean my place was almost like a crack house," Taylor would later explain.
We're not in the '80s. We're not in the '90s anymore. You have to govern yourself accordingly.
— Taylor, 2012
In Taylor's final year in the NFL, he started a company called All-Pro Products. The company went public at $5 a share, and tripled in value during its first month. The stock price reached $16.50 a share, at which point Taylor's stake had an estimated value of over $10 million. The company ceased production shortly thereafter however, and Taylor, who never sold his stock, lost several hundred thousand dollars. He had been defrauded by several members of the penny stock firm Hanover Sterling & Company, who had short sold the company's stock, making it worthless. The Securities and Exchange Commission ruled that two traders had manipulated the price of the stock, which skyrocketed while the company was losing over $900,000. Taylor has also had self-inflicted financial problems; in 1997 he pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return in 1990, and in 2000 he was "sentenced to three months of house arrest, five years of probation, and 500 hours of community service for tax evasion."
After his career ended, Taylor worked in several regular television jobs. He first worked as a football analyst for the now defunct TNT Sunday Night Football. In a one-off show, Taylor also appeared as a wrestler in the World Wrestling Federation, defeating Bam Bam Bigelow in the main event of WrestleMania XI. He also worked as a color commentator on an amateur fighting program entitled Toughman on the FX channel. On September 4, 1995, the Giants retired Phil Simms' jersey during halftime of a game against the Cowboys (Taylor had his number retired the year before). Simms celebrated the moment by throwing an impromptu ceremonial pass to Taylor. Simms recalled, "[a]ll of a sudden it kind of hit me, I've put Lawrence in a really tough spot; national TV, he's got dress shoes and a sports jacket on, and he's had a few beers and he's going to run down the field and I'm going to throw him a pass." Simms motioned for Taylor to run a long pattern and after 30–40 yards threw him the pass. Taylor later said the situation made him more nervous than any play of his career, "I'm saying to myself (as the pass is being thrown), 'If I drop this pass, I got to run my black ass all the way back to Upper Saddle River because there ain't no way I'm going to be able to stay in that stadium'." Taylor caught the pass, however, and the capacity crowd in attendance cheered in approval.
Movies & video games
Taylor pursued a career in acting, appearing in the Oliver Stone movie Any Given Sunday where he played a character much like himself. He appeared as himself in the HBO series The Sopranos and the film The Waterboy. He also had a role in the 2000 version of Shaft. Taylor voiced the steroid-riddled, possibly insane former football player B.J. Smith in the video game, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. The character poked fun at his fearsome, drug-fueled public image. He also added his voice to the video game Blitz: The League and its sequel, which were partially based on his life in the NFL. He also acted in the 2000 Christian filmMercy Streets with Eric Roberts and Stacy Keach, and the 2003 prison movie In Hell with Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Hall of Fame induction
In 1999, when Taylor became eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, there were some concerns his hard-partying lifestyle and drug abuse would hurt his candidacy. These concerns proved to be ill-founded, however, as he was voted in on the first ballot. His son Lawrence Taylor Jr. gave his introduction speech at the induction ceremony. Taylor's ex-wife, his three children, and his parents were in attendance and during his induction speech Taylor acknowledged them saying, "thank you for putting up with me for all those years." He also credited former Giants owner Wellington Mara for being supportive of him saying, "[h]e probably cared more about me as a person than he really should have."
In 2004 Taylor released an autobiography, LT: Over the Edge. Taylor often spoke of his NFL years, which he played with reckless abandon, and the drug-abusing stages of his life as the "L.T." periods of his life. He described "L.T." as an adrenaline junkie who lived life on a thrill ride. Taylor said in 2003 that "L. T. died a long time ago, and I don't miss him at all ... all that's left is Lawrence Taylor."
Advertising and television
Taylor re-emerged into the public eye in July 2006, after appearing on the cover of a Sports Illustrated issue dedicated to former athletes and sport figures. In the magazine, Taylor credited his hobby of golf with helping him get over his previous hard-partying ways and drug filled lifestyle. He co-founded eXfuze, a network marketing company based in West Palm Beach, Florida. Along with former NFL players, such as Eric Dickerson and Seth Joyner, he was a spokesman for Seven+, the flagship multi-botanical drink produced by the company. His son Brandon signed a national letter to play with the Purdue Boilermakers. Taylor was a contestant on the 8th season of Dancing with the Stars, partnered with Edyta Śliwińska. He was eliminated in the seventh week on the April 21, 2009, show.
Run-ins with the law
In 2009, Taylor started having troubles in his personal life again. On November 8, he was arrested in Miami-Dade County, Florida for leaving the scene of an accident after striking another vehicle with his Cadillac Escalade. He had already committed the same offense in 1996 when he totaled his Lexus in a one-car accident and left the scene, saying he did not think the law required the reporting of a single driver incident. He was released on a $500 bond, and the other driver later sued him, seeking $15,000.
In May 2010, Taylor was arrested for having sex with a 16-year-old girl at a Holiday Inn located in Montebello, New York. He was charged with felony third-degree statutory rape, for allegedly engaging in sexual intercourse with someone under 17. He was also charged with third-degree patronization for allegedly paying the underage girl $300 to have sex with him. The girl was represented by celebrity attorney Gloria Allred when Taylor pleaded guilty on March 22, 2011, and was sentenced to six years probation as part of a plea agreement, in which he pleaded guilty to the misdemeanors of sexual misconduct and patronizing a prostitute. He also registered as a low-risk, level-one sex offender. On October 26, 2012, a court rejected the victim's claims that Taylor assaulted her.
As of 2016, Taylor resides in Pembroke Pines, Florida. On June 9, 2016, Taylor's wife was arrested for domestic violence in Florida after she threw "an unknown object" and struck Taylor in the back of the head.
In May 2017, Taylor put up for auction the Vince Lombardi mini statue he had won for the Super Bowl XXV win. The next month, he pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol following a September 2, 2016 crash into a stopped police car in Palm Beach County, Florida. The two breathalyzer tests taken five hours after the crash measured Taylor's blood-alcohol level at .082 and .084, above the Florida legal limit of .080.
The main characters in the Jim Shepardshort story "Trample the dead, hurdle the weak", two college football players, discuss "L.T." and whether "he really wanted to kill people out there."
NFL career statistics
|Led the league|
|Team won the Super Bowl|
|AP NFL MVP & DPOTY|
|NFL Defensive Player of the Year|
* Unofficial statistic (sacks did not become an official statistic until 1982); however, this number is stated on Taylor's Pro Football Hall of Fame bio and is considered to be accurate.
† Including the 9.5 Taylor unofficially recorded as a rookie, his total is 142.
Key to abbreviations
GS= games started
FR= fumbles recovered
- ^"Top 10 defensive players ever". NFL.com. Retrieved April 6, 2021.
- ^Mori, Dan. "NFL Power Rankings: Top 50 Greatest Defensive Players In NFL History". Bleacher Report. Retrieved April 6, 2021.
- ^"Lawrence Taylor sentenced to six years' probation". Los Angeles Times. March 22, 2011. Retrieved March 22, 2011.
- ^ abcHarris, Nolte, and Kirsch. pg.449
- ^ abTaylor and Serby. pg. 5
- ^Taylor and Falkner. pg.7
- ^Lawrence Taylor, britannica.com, accessed March 29, 2007.
- ^Taylor and Serby. pg. 17
- ^Shampoe. pg. 65
- ^North Carolina Football All-Time Letterman (PDF), cstv.com, accessed February 26, 2007.
- ^Powell. pg. 80
- ^ abcdefgWhitley, David. L.T. was reckless, magnificent, espn.com, accessed January 29, 2007.
- ^Knight Ridder. Peppers is drawing comparisons to Taylor., April 16, 2002, available online via accessmylibrary.com, accessed February 17, 2007.[permanent dead link]
*Q & A with North Carolina DE Julius Peppers, Pro Football Weekly, March 20, 2002, accessed February 17, 2007.
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