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The Fame game
Does LT's conduct make him Hall of Fame worthy?
Posted: Saturday January 30, 1999 12:17 PM
MIAMI (CNN/SI) -- When you think of Lawrence Taylor, what do you think of?
The dominating Taylor, sacking a defenseless quarterback. Or, is it this? The dumbfounded Taylor, uttering profanity after an arrest for crack possession.
Those two images are fueling a debate about Taylor's candidacy for the pro football Hall of Fame.
On the one hand, there's Taylor the player.
"All I can say about Lawrence Taylor is that he's the best defensive football player I've seen," said Howie Long, the former Oakland Raider defensive end and now Hall of Fame nominee. "I've said many times he's the best player I've seen in my era defensively. Everyone else is a pretender."
That Taylor is a 10-time All-Pro linebacker who rewrote the job description for that position.
The Taylor who won two Super Bowl rings during his 13-year career. The Taylor who racked up 132.5 career sacks. The Taylor who was the league's most valuable player in 1986 and was defensive player of the year three times.
Ask the men who played against him and they'll tell you that that Lawrence Taylor should be elected on the first ballot to the Canton, Ohio, shrine.
"The football goals that he has accomplished on the football field are unprecedented," Bills defensive end Bruce Smith said.
You won't get much of an argument from most of the NFL's former quarterbacks.
"I think that he was the greatest football player that I ever stepped on the field against," former Falcons quarterback Steve Bartkowski said. "Nobody dictated what you could do offensively like LT."
And based on the Hall of Fame selection criteria, that Taylor is the one who matters.
According to Section 3, Item C of the Hall of Fame bylaws: "The only criteria for election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame is a nominee's achievements and contributions as a player, coach or contributor."
As one of the 15 finalists, Taylor needs the support of at least 29 of the 36 sportswriters who will vote this Saturday.
"Lawrence Taylor should be a first ballot selection to the Hall of Fame for a very simple reason," said Sports Illustrated's Peter King, one of the 36 Hall of Fame voters. "The selectors of the Hall of Fame, the 36 guys who do this are asked to judge him on one thing, how he did on the football field only."
But should other factors matter?
Hockey Hall of Fame voters must consider sportsmanship and character, as well as playing ability. Likewise, baseball's selectors must judge integrity and character, which is why the all-time leader in hits, Pete Rose, the man who also was banned from the game for betting activities while he was a player, has failed to gain admission to the baseball hall of fame.
"If it was me, and I do vote for baseball as well, Pete Rose would have been in the Hall of fame a long time ago and so would Shoeless Joe Jackson," Boston Globe writer Will McDonough said. "You know it's what you do on the field. I don't care what you do off it."
Unfortunately for Taylor, that opinion is far from unanimous.
To be elected, a candidate needs 80 percent of the vote from those present at Saturday's election. If all 36 electors show up, Taylor would need votes from 29 of them.
And it definitely is far from a slam dunk -- or in this case, a sack -- for Taylor.
"The Hall of Fame should be for heroes and to me Lawrence Taylor is nobody's hero," said Hall of Fame voter Jerry Magee, who writes for the San Diego Union Tribune. "I just feel that he has not acted as a responsible citizen and I would loathe to see his bust resting among the giants of the game, there in Canton."
And if the criteria included character considerations, would Taylor the man pass muster?
The Taylor who admitted in his autobiography that he used cocaine from 1982-85? The Taylor who tested positive for cocaine and was suspended for 4 games in 1988? The Taylor who has twice been arrested and charged with trying to buy crack cocaine within the last two and a half years? The Taylor who recently was in a drug rehabilitation facility?
That Taylor made no apologies for those transgressions.
"I don't worry too much about the choices I've made." Taylor said. "When my days are over I'll have to answer for everything I've done. I don't grieve in any way about bad consequences for things I've done in my life."
It could be comments like those that ultimately keep Taylor out of the Hall of Fame, at least this year.
"I was hoping he'd sway me to vote for him and he didn't," Arizona Republic writer and Hall of Fame voter Steve Schoenfeld said. "In fact, he probably made me feel more the other way. He was not remorseful at all."
Some of his peers, however, feel Taylor's lack of remorse for something else -- the quarterback -- should be the one and only factor in his Hall of Fame candidacy.
Hall of Fame defensive end Deacon Jones thinks making the Hall of Fame could help to turn Taylor around.
"He earned the right to be in the Hall of Fame," Jones said. "We expect him to be in the Hall of Fame, we'll be waiting on him, and then when he comes into the Hall of Fame we will straighten him out."
One way or another, it all will be straightened out Saturday.
Based on the stated criteria, Hall of Fame voters may very well judge Taylor worthy. The judgment of history could be a different matter entirely.
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