Lawrence Taylor: A Force of Nature
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Lawrence Taylor was a god to me. He epitomized what a football player should be. The best way I can describe him is that he moved like lightning and hit like thunder. He showcased superhuman abilities and defensive prowess that I nor anyone had never before seen on a football field. He defied logic and was an absolute force of nature against opposing teams whose offensive coordinators would spend weeks to prepare against him, thinking of ways to at least slow him down him or contain him. He gave opposing quarterbacks and running backs nightmares. Lawrence Taylor changed the way the game was played to say the least, revolutionizing the outside linebacker position in the 3-4 defensive alignment. His presence alone changed the dynamics on how teams ran their offense. Before the snap of the football, all eyes would be on number 56. Everyone on the offense wanted to know where he was lining up.
“On the pass rush, he’s an animal. He’s either running around you or over you. With his quickness, he’s full speed after two steps…Once the season starts at least I won’t have to play against him anymore.” –Giants Quarterback Phil Simms
In 1981, Lawrence Taylor was a First Round Draft Pick selection (second pick overall) out of University of North Carolina (where he was an All-American) who was selected by the New York Giants. Hall of Fame Giants Linebacker Harry Carson questioned the Giants' high selection of Taylor, arguing that they "didn't need him" because they already had "good enough linebackers. Taylor's then yearly salary was a then unheard-sum of $250,000 annual salary for an NFL rookie. Due to this fact, Taylor had a chip on his shoulder and so set out to prove to his critics that he was worth every penny the Giants paid him. In his inaugural season, he helped to improve a woeful Giants team that went 4-12 the previous year to a 9-7 record and a playoff berth. In his rookie year, Taylor won both Defensive Rookie of the Year honors and overall Defensive Player of the Year by the Associated Press. He was also selected to the first of ten consecutive Pro Bowls.
“He 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.” –Hall of Fame Steelers Quarterback Terry Bradshaw recalling LT’s performance during an exhibition game
1986 marked Taylor's best year as a New York Giant and was one of the best for a defensive player in NFL history. He became only the second of two NFL players at the time (Alan Page was the first) to win the highly-coveted and exclusive title of NFL MVP as a defensive player iin which he won by unanimous decision, also a first. Traditionally, such award is given to either a quarterback or running back on offense. In 1986, Taylor recorded an astounding 20.5 sacks to lead the league and ran away with the title of NFL Defensive Player of the Year for the third time in his career (1981 and 1982 were the other two previous years). In his first six seasons, Taylor made the AP All-Pro team. Taylor's Giants would compile a franchise best 14-2 record in the modern era for the the season and continue their momentum into the playoffs where they would go on to outscore the San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins a combined 66-3. In Super Bowl XXI, Taylor made a key play by sacking Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway on a roll-out pass near the goal line. The Giants would go on to beat the Denver Broncos convincingly, 39-20 for their first Super Bowl victory.
"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." -Hall of Fame Oakland Raiders Coach John Madden
The 1990 season would pose as a big challenge for Taylor, who wanted to restructure his contract before returning to the Giants off-season training camp. While demanding a new contract for $2 million a year, talks dragged on without either side budging. While holding out on returning to the Giants, Taylor was penalized $2,500 a day every day. Not until four days before the Giants' season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles would Taylor and the Giants come to a contract agreement. Although he missed all five preseason games and all of training camp, Taylor started in the season opener in optimum shape and recorded three sacks and a forced fumble. He would finish the season with a total of 10.5 sacks and make his tenth Pro Bowl in ten years, but for the first time in his career, he would not make the first team, in accordance with the Associated Press. However, Taylor's Giants would go on to a 10-0 record and end their regular season with a 13-3 record. After a first-round bye, they would go on to beat the Chicago Bears 31-3 and the San Francisco 49ers 15-13 (Giants kicker Matt Bahr kicked a club record five field goals and so was the only Giant to score). The Giants would then go on to beat the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV 20-19, in which would eventually go down as one of the most emotional and exciting Super Bowls in NFL history, It was the second Super Bowl win for the New York Football Giants in five years.
"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."-Lawrence Taylor during a post-game press conference after a Divisional Playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers
The final years of Lawrence Taylor's career as member of the Giants proved to be trying. After the Giants' second Super Bowl, legendary coach Bill Parcells health was in jeopardy and so decided to leave the organization at the top of his game. The Giants promoted their long time offensive coordinator Ray Handley. The 1991 season marked Taylor's decline in productivity as he recorded only seven sacks in fourteen games. In 1992, after the Giants went 5-4 to start their season, Taylor suffered a ruptured Achilles Tendon on the November 8 game against the Green Bay Packers. Personally, I'll never forget that day as I remember clearly, L.T. being wheeled away on top of a gurney with both his hands covering his eyes in obvious pain. Funny how both he and the legendary Trojan hero Achilles suffered the same fate. My hero had finally fallen. He wasn't invincible after all. It was common that a player suffering as such an injury would not return. The Giants as a team played miserably for the rest of the season, going 1-6. However, in the 1993 season, the Giants were given new hope. Dan Reeves was hired as the new head coach and Taylor returned to the field with a new intensity to play. He played admirably that year and recorded 6 sacks. The Giants went 11-5 and beat the Minnesota Vikings in the first round of the playoffs 17-10. But in the next game against the rival San Francisco 49ers, they were beaten convincingly enough 44-3 (in a game I still remember with angst). Towards the end of the game, Taylor was visibly crying. In the post-game press conference, he said "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."
"You just got to go play. And no matter how many times it knocks you down. No matter how many times you think you can’t go forward. No matter how many times things just don’t go right. You know, anybody can quit. Anybody can do that. A Hall of Famer never quits. A Hall of Famer realizes that, a Hall of Famer realizes that the crime is not being knocked down, the crime is not getting up again. And I want to thank you for allowing me to be here. Thank you very much."-Lawerence Taylor during his Hall of Fame induction speech at Canton Ohio
Big Blue and L.T.
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