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'The Michael Jordan of football'
LT one giant step away from Hall of Fame
Posted: Saturday January 30, 1999 12:04 AM
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- Lawrence Taylor once described himself as a wild man in a wild game.
Many former teammates, opponents and football analysts simply call Taylor the greatest linebacker ever.
"He is the Michael Jordan of football," former New York Giants teammate and defensive end George Martin said earlier this week. "There is just that dominance."
People describe Taylor as intense, passionate, determined, ferocious, powerful, fast, a raw talent. And, of course, there's the dark side.
Taylor was all of that off the field, too. He has had well-publicized problems with substance abuse, money, temper, taxes and marriage both during his career and since his retirement after the 1993 season.
And when Taylor is considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday in Miami by a 36-man panel on the eve of the Super Bowl, that might be the one thing that keeps him from enshrinement.
"In my mind, [he's] the best defensive player in the last 20 years," Fox Sports analyst John Madden said in Miami. "If that is the criteria to get in the Hall of Fame, he should be in the Hall of Fame. Now if they consider some of the other stuff off the field, then I don't know.
"I don't know what the rules are. But if it's what the guy did on the field, he sure should be in the Hall of Fame."
During a 13-year career with the Giants that was highlighted by two Super Bowl championships and 10 straight Pro Bowl berths, Taylor forced offenses to change.
When a quarterback got to the line of scrimmage, he had to know where No. 56 was on the field.
Pass plays that were supposed to be a simple as 1-2-3 were foiled when Taylor got to the quarterback on two with a hit usually preceded by a karate chop across the arms.
Running away from Taylor was just as problematic. He would run from sideline to sideline and stop backs for 2-yard gains.
"He could have played in any decade and been outstanding in any decade," former Giants general manager and current NFL executive George Young said. "The distinction that sets him apart is his ability to maintain his intensity over the longest period of time in a game and a career."
Countless times, Young has told the story of how he went to a North Carolina game to scout someone else and ended up focusing on Taylor play after play.
Taken by the lowly Giants with the No. 2 pick in the 1981 draft, Taylor turned them around in a season, leading New York to its first playoff berth in 18 years.
Everyone seems to have a favorite Taylor story.
Former Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw only played against Taylor once, in a 1981 exhibition game. He remembers, though.
"He dang-near killed me," Bradshaw said. "I just kept saying, 'Who is this guy?' He kept coming from my blind side and just ripped my ribs to pieces."
Bill Parcells, who coached Taylor most of his career, was the Giants' defensive coordinator that season, and he recalled a game against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Taylor was supposed to drop off in coverage on a play. Instead, he rushed in and sacked the quarterback.
When he got to the sideline, Parcells said, "Lawrence, what are you doing?"
"Oh, yeah, I forgot, I was supposed to drop back."
Later in the game, in the same situation, he was supposed to be in coverage. Instead, he blitzed, got another sack, and forced a fumble. Martin picked it up and ran for a TD.
At the sidelines, L.T. was mobbed, but Parcells wasn't in the celebration. He stared at Taylor from a distance.
Their eyes met and Taylor slapped himself in the head and said, again, 'Oh, I forgot again.'"
Parcells said, "Lawrence, we don't have what you're doing in the play book."
"Well, coach, maybe we should put it in."
The next day, it was in the game plan. And it stayed there.
Former Washington offensive tackle Mark May said then-coach Joe Gibbs started putting in special sliding defenses for Taylor, although Gibbs never called them "Giants defenses." It was the "blue package," although part of the terminology was "56 is the rover, find the rover."
Since Taylor moved from side to side as a linebacker who was more a defensive end, May was assigned to block him at times. His solution was to get dirty.
"I knew if he got a sack or a hurry on my side he would stay over there, so after the play I would hit him in the knee, in the groin and the stomach so he wouldn't want to stay over there," May said. "I didn't care if I took a personal foul. If he stayed there, I was going to have a long day."
Since one blocker was never enough, most teams doubled Taylor and even had a running back block him for a little extra help.
It rarely helped, though. Taylor finished his career with 132 1/2 sacks, which didn't count 9 1/2 as a rookie because sacks weren't an official stat until 1982.
Taylor always downplayed his numbers. The only things that mattered was winning, golf and probably himself. He once claimed to rehab himself on the links.
He hated to lose and he found ways to put the Giants over the top, be it the late interception against Detroit one Thanksgiving or the forced turnover or big tackle.
"There are a lot of people who can make tackles, but I always seemed to look for the big play," Taylor said Monday. "The big play got noticed, the big play was the one that changed the game.
"... I have always wanted to be the one who made those plays."
Phil McConkey said the scary part about Taylor was he never seemed to work during the week. During their five years as teammates, the receiver never once saw L.T. do a toe touch or a situp or even lift a weight. He just showed up on Sundays and created havoc for opponents.
"It was pure, raw physical talent," McConkey said. "Michael Jordan worked. He worked hard at his craft. L.T. didn't work. To think of him being one of the greatest athletes of all time, one of the greatest football players of all time and he didn't work at it, unless he did it in secret somewhere."
Taylor credited Parcells with knowing how to use him.
Parcells was smart enough to have different rules for L.T. and everyone else, and the players accepted that. Some even donated urine samples so Taylor could pass league-mandated drug tests.
"If the consequences for my choices are not being in the Hall of Fame, you guys decide that," Taylor told the media Monday. "...I'm not losing sleep on whether I make it or not.
"Yes, I would love to be in there. I expect to be in there. I think I have worked hard enough to be in there. But yes, I have had problems in my life."
Martin said those problems should not bar Taylor from the Hall of Fame.
"I don't think there has been an easier vote in the history of the game," Martin said. "I dare anyone to challenge me. There hasn't been an easier vote for the Hall of Fame than Lawrence."
"The game has changed so much. They want everything lily-white and players to be pure and clean," said May. "That's not the way football is meant to be. It doesn't mean everyone has to be a choir boy."
CNNSI.com users agree as well. In a poll of more than 20,000 users, 68 percent said they would vote Taylor into the Hall of Fame.
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