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SI FOR KIDS
'L.T.' has a date with Canton, destiny
Posted: Thursday August 12, 1999 02:23 PM
By Nick Charles, CNN/SI
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- He was a guy who would play in a parking lot. No crowds, no pay. Just the raw challenge.Lawrence Taylor was a once-in-a-lifetime player who terrorized opposing offenses for 13 seasons while playing with the New York Giants. Seldom had anyone seen a player with the size and speed that allowed him to revolutionize how an NFL linebacker plays the game. Because of what he did and how he did it, Taylor is a member of the 1999 class to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
"I loved pushing my body to the maximum, to the edge," he says.
He was a man who made his teammates better even in practice because his passion forced them to work beyond their limits.
Linebacker Harry Carson was one of those teammates.
"He was always a competitor and he always had that fire burning in his eyes," Carson said.
On game day, his ferocity swept the football field and turned him into a bomb looking to detonate on impact.
"A transformation would take place when he'd put on his uniform," said George Martin, who played defensive end for the Giants. "He would be transformed into this homicidal maniac."
And it was everyone on the other side of the line of scrimmage who bore the brunt of that punishment. Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana knows all about Taylor's intensity. "You saw hunger," Montana remembers. "Some guys were great at playing their position but didn't have that feeling inside and that was something that L.T. had with him every down of every game and he never lost it."
Taylor wore number 56 for the Giants and his his 13 seasons with the team, he went to 10 Pro Bowls, was part of two Super Bowls championships and in 1986 became the first defensive player in history to be the a unanimous choice as the league's Most Valuable Player.
"I used to always say when I went on the football field, 'You know I'm the best player out here on this field.' Is that being cocky? Maybe it is."
Taylor was brilliant. He knew it and his victims knew it because L.T. forced them to alter their ways and even when they did, they often still perished.
"We had to try in some way have a special game plan just for Lawrence Taylor," says Joe Gibbs, former coach of the Washington Redskins. "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."
Taylor was one player who created anxiety before every snap.
Taylor played with a total disregard for his body. He never wore thigh or hip pads. He never took a cheap shot. He never showboated after a sack. But being perhaps the most dynamic defensive player of his era still didn't earn Taylor unanimous entry into the Hall because of his history of drugs and other character issues.
"That's not my problem," Taylor said after a long pause. "I'm there regardless and whether you like me or you don'tlike me. Every time you visit that place (Hall of Fame), you're going to see my face inside that building."
Football was Taylor's safe haven. The field was his groundwire. He was able to connect between the lines and let his enormous talent flow. However off the field, he lived on the edge and often over it in a perpetual struggle with drugs and alcohol.
"Generally you'd see this blood-shot, you know, half-dazed tired, consumed individual," Martin recalls. "And you would say to yourself, there's no way in the world that Lawrence can go out, after in some cases, have no sleep and at the best case scenario having very little sleep and perform the way he did."
As far as Taylor is concerned, what he did impacted only one person.
"I could have changed a lot of different things in my life, but who would it affect, you know? See, the things that I do wrong, they don't affect anyone but me."
But the man who drafted him in 1981 says Taylor's self-destructive nature inflicted deep wounds that have harmed others as well.
"Had he been able to get himself adjusted sooner, then his life would be better and the life of his family and the people who love him would be better," said former Giants' general manager George Young. "That's the sadness I feel."
Taylor was most recently arrested last October for buying $50.00 worth of crack cocaine from an undercover officer. The case is scheduled for trial in November. But shortly after the alleged incident, Taylor entered a drug rehabilitation clinic with Giants' owner Wellington Mara paying $7,000 toward his treatment.
"He has an affliction," Mara said. "He knows he's an addict and the demons of that affliction and they are terrible demons have been trying to do what no coach or no player in the National Football League was ever able to do: put L.T. down for the count."
"The demons will always be there," Taylor admitted. "Always. But you know,(hard breath) you can always fight demons."
Taylor is 40-years-old and now must put together a game plan for the rest of his life with the acceptance that this is an opponent he can't dominate all by himself.
Someone who will always be there for him is the man who coached Taylor in a pair of Super Bowls. Bill Parcells, who now coaches cross-town rival New York Jets says he will always be there for Taylor if he ever needs him.
"He has a friend for life," Parcells said. "He knows that. I really love him with all my heart. I really do and it's just like he's one of my own kids. He really is."
And Taylor says that his own children have helped make a difference in his life.
"My kids, over this period of trials and tribulations, they've shown me that they love me so much and that's stronger than anything."
Taylor's 18-year-old son T.J, will introduce his father to the audience at the ceremonies. All four of his children will be at his side Saturday when he's inducted. Taylor says he is humbled by the honor and grateful that he's alive to enjoy it.
"Am I happy?, he asks. "I think I'm probably happier now than I've ever been in my life. No I don't have everything that I want in this world, but it's just a want. I have everything I need in this world."
Including a place in NFL history.
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