"You look at a guy like [the Rev.] Al Sharpton. Every time something happens, he's in there hollering discrimination. Even though he's a showboat, even though he's blowing smoke, at least he's making noise, and who knows? Without him, maybe this stuff wouldn't get the same attention."
Listening to Taylor unburden himself of something that's obviously been bothering him for some time, you wonder why these feelings have never surfaced before. "Nobody's ever asked me," he says. "You know how many times I've wanted people to ask me about this case, or that one. People think I live sports 24 hours a day. I don't. I watch the news on TV; I don't wait till the sports comes on. To hell with the sports pages in the paper. I don't read sports, I play it. But ask me about South Africa, yeah, I'm interested."
The nagging question is: If he's so concerned about social issues, how come he hasn't stepped forward to try to change things? "Look, I'll tell you the way it really is," Taylor says. "A lot of people, myself included, don't want to give up their status in white America. You learn how to deal with certain situations, how to play the game. A lot of athletes, especially the white ones, take some sort of stand, but they do it after they're through, when they're not worried about their status. They don't want to make waves while they're playing.
"For years I believed that because I was successful in the white man's world, I'd never be touched by prejudice. It was a false sense of security. It's all around you. Clubs are always inviting me to play on their golf courses, but I've been denied membership in prominent country clubs here [in New Jersey].
"I'm a member at courses all over the country, and I can't get a membership in the area where I live. Is that wild? But, of course, they all want you to play in their tournaments, and when I'm there, the only other black person I see is the cook. Yeah, they love me there, but it's all a facade. It's all for show."
New York fans are a notoriously hard-eyed lot, eager to cheer someone who strikes their fancy, almost as eager to turn on him when things go bad. Two things about Taylor, though, have brought him close to their hearts: his remarkably high pain threshold and his sense of drama, the way he can isolate the few big moments in a game, when everything is on the line, and turn up the burners to their highest.
"There comes a time in a game when you know a key play is coming up," Taylor says. "You can just feel it in the air. It might be when you're up by 17 points, but you know if the other team scores on that play, it's back in the game. It could be a play at the end of the game, or a chance to put a team away for keeps early. Maybe you'll have six or seven situations like that in a game. 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. There are times when you have to find a way to make the play, and as you get older it might mean conserving your energy until that moment comes."
The pain? On Nov. 27, 1989, the 49ers' Wesley Walls sent Taylor off the field on a cart when he took Taylor down with a cut block, away from the play. What was thought to be a severe ankle sprain was later determined to be a hairline fracture at the base of the right tibia. A New York Times story on Dec. 1 carried the headline: TAYLOR'S ANKLE IS BROKEN, BUT HE FEELS BETTER. He played the next Sunday. Then there's the most famous example of all, in a Sunday night game against New Orleans in 1988, when his right deltoid muscle was torn and Taylor kept stripping off his shirt on the sideline to adjust his shoulder harness. He was in on 10 tackles, got two sacks and forced two fumbles, and the Giants won by a field goal.
"Phil Simms was out, Carl Banks was out," says Parcells. "The Saints were 9-3, and the game was at their place. After the game I went over to LT, and we touched foreheads. He knew and I knew, but no one else knew what he had gone through. I told him, 'You were great tonight,' and he said, I don't know how I made it.' I will never forget that."
"Only once in my pro career have I gotten a shot for pain, and that was when I had the cracked ankle," Taylor says. "Bill didn't believe in shots, and our doctor, Russ Warren, wouldn't give them, so I had a guy I know shoot the ankle. I had to wash it and slap some tape on it quickly, because I knew Russ would check it. I didn't want him to see the blood. The ankle was shot in four places. Playing in pain is like forcing yourself to play when you're tired. You've got to trick yourself."