One of the most colorful, talented and troubled players in NFL history was Lawrence Taylor.
He was the sack machine of the New York Giants.
Taylor played from 1981 to 1993 and changed how the defensive game was played because he simply felt he could sack any quarterback at any time. And he has the numbers to back up that feeling.
The stories about LT are legendary and I think about them every time I walk into my office and look at a picture on my wall of Boomer Esiason. He was our quarterback during part of my time with the Jets and he's pictured running with the football with LT in hot pursuit.
The end result? Boomer prefers to remember it as the time he got away. LT would tell you he chased Esiason down and sacked him. I went back and found the play on tape and Boomer was one of the lucky ones to escape the grip of LT. I think I'll have Boomer autograph the picture for me with a small piece of wisdom about how he managed to dodge the great one.
I once had a discussion about Taylor with Bill Parcells while we were having lunch during the coach's days with the Jets. Parcells is a great storyteller and when I asked him about his days with LT this was the first story he wanted to tell.
It was Taylor's second year in the NFL, 1982, and really the first year he made his presence known as a pass rusher. As Parcells tells it they were playing Philadelphia at home and there was a defensive call made on the field that required LT to drop into coverage. He rushed the quarterback instead and sacked him.
As LT came off the field Parcells was ripping him for not doing his job and Taylor said "I knew I could get him before he passed the ball." Parcells said don't do it again. Later on in the game, on the same defensive call, LT disregarded his assignment and rushed the quarterback again.
Sack no. 2 and another stern warning from Parcells.
As you would expect the same call came up a little later in the game and LT just rushed in for his third sack of the day. As Taylor came off the field Parcells turned to one of his defensive coaches and said "make up a name for what he's been doing because they're going to ask me in the postgame press conference."
Bill was smiling the whole time he told the story and kept smiling during the 132 1/2 regular season sacks and 6 1/2 postseason sacks LT recorded with Big Blue.
- 13 games against Philadelphia and 25 sacks.
- 13 games against Dallas and 15 sacks
- 11 games against Washington and 19 sacks.
Speaking of the Redskins, here's a story Carl Banks told me just the other day. The Giants were in the week leading up to a Washington Redskins game in 1986 and the team meeting kicked off the week of preparation as usual. But there was no sign of LT at the meeting. After the team meeting the defense met and still no LT. Then the defensive front met to go over the pass rush for the week and still no LT. With the lights out and the film on LT snuck into the room and crawled under the coach's desk while he was going over the plan. All of a sudden the snoring was too loud for the coach to handle. He flipped on the lights and started ripping LT for being late and sleeping in the room.
According to Banks, LT stood up and said "show me one pass play and I'll tell you the plan." After watching one pass play Taylor went to the chalkboard and designed what everyone should do against the Redskins, drawing up the scheme he knew would work and then went back to sleep. Taylor had three sacks in that game and three more later in the year when the Giants played the Redskins a second time. As Carl Banks said to me "Lawrence just saw the game different than the rest of us."
Banks was the great outside linebacker on the opposite side of LT and he quickly realized that if he could turn the running game back inside, or never let a quarterback escape to his side, that Taylor would always be in hot pursuit from the other side. Banks was the perfect complement to Taylor and the two of them had a lot to do with the 1986 Giants defense being known as the "Big Blue Wrecking Crew."
I spent a year with Leonard Marshall late in his career and we often talked about LT. Marshall always seemed to chuckle when I brought up his name. He really laughed when we talked about the in-season Saturday morning walk-thru practices before a game. Those practices were a waste of time in the mind of LT. Also, being on Saturday mornings meant they were probably going to be missed anyway. Marshall told me one time the team was in the stadium for the walk-thru because it was a home game the next day and LT was nowhere to be found.
Then, all of a sudden, a cab pulled up to the stadium tunnel and out popped Taylor still in the clothes he wore the day before. After the session was over, one of the players said Parcells was pretty mad and LT apparently said, "what's the big deal? I played on this field before and I know what I gotta do tomorrow, get the QB." There was some truth to what Taylor said that day because he had close to 80 of his sacks in his 59 games at Giants Stadium.