Taylor, Lawrence Julius ("LT")

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TAYLOR, Lawrence Julius ("LT")

(b. 4 February 1959 in Lightfoot, Virginia), professional football player whose pass-rushing ability revolutionized the role of outside linebacker.

Taylor was the middle son of Clarence Taylor, a truck driver at the shipyards in Newport News, Virginia, and Iris Taylor, a cashier and clerk who later ran a day-care center for preschool children. His parents worked hard, scrimped, and formed a God-fearing family in Williamsburg, Virginia, with their three boys, each born one year apart. As a child, Lawrence spent a great deal of time alone and was considered the wild one, a rebel. Other children called him "Candy Man" because he bought candy and resold it at school for a profit.

Clarence Taylor was a great fan of football, but his son loved baseball and dreamed of becoming a major league catcher. At age fifteen, while a sophomore at Lafayette High School, Lawrence, later called "LT," was practicing with the baseball team when he was spotted by Pete Babcock, coach of the Williamsburg Jaycee football team, who asked the short, stocky youngster to come out for the team. Babcock made Taylor a linebacker. LT was hooked. He checked out books from the school library and read about famous linebackers, such as the New York Giant Sam Huff.

In his junior year in high school, the five-foot, seven-inch, 180-pound Taylor sat on the bench until the season's fifth game, when he won the game by blocking a punt. Coach Melvin Jones recognized his potential and made him a starter. By the end of his senior year in 1977, Taylor had grown to six feet, one inch and 205 pounds, and was named Male Athlete of the Year. Because he had started playing football relatively late, Taylor received few scholarship offers. He chose the University of North Carolina because he liked Mike Mansfield, its recruiter.

Taylor spent most of his first year at Chapel Hill sitting on the bench, playing occasionally as a member of the varsity special teams. Off the gridiron, he went crazy. His drinking, partying, and aggressive behavior gained him the nickname "Monster." He frequently was seen climbing the side of his dormitory building in a drunken stupor. In his sophomore year he got a new coach, Dick Crum, who started him as an inside linebacker. In the season opener, he broke a bone in his foot and missed several games. The team finished the season with a 5–6 record.

Taylor has admitted that in 1979, his junior year, he might have wound up in jail or dead if it had not been for two events. Halfway through the season, he had a great game against North Carolina State, which convinced him of his ability, and that evening, he met Deborah Belinda Cooley, with whom he fell in love and for whom he reformed his life. They were married on 19 June 1982 and had three children; they divorced in 1994. Taylor's team finished with an 8–3–1 record and won the Gator Bowl against Michigan, with Taylor making the play of the game, sacking Michigan's quarterback John Wangler. At the end of Taylor's senior year, North Carolina had lost only one game, to Oklahoma, and had an 11–1 record season, along with the number-one-ranked defense in the nation. In the Bluebonnet Bowl, they upset Texas. Taylor, now six feet, three inches and 230 pounds, was a consensus All-American and named Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Player of the Year.

In 1981 Taylor was drafted into the National Football League (NFL) by the New York Giants. The new line-backer, who had never even been to a professional football game before, signed a four-year contract starting at $125,000 a year and rising to $300,000 by the last year. In his first year, the Giants had their first winning season in ten years, and Taylor was named Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. He was a unanimous Pro Bowl choice. The next season, Bill Parcells, former defensive coordinator for the Giants, replaced coach Ray Perkins, and Taylor was again named Defensive Player of the Year, going to the Pro Bowl for the second year in a row.

It was at this time that Taylor began using drugs. He was introduced to cocaine at a Halloween party and became hooked. Many attribute the Giants' terrible losing season of 1983 to Taylor's increased use of drugs. By 1985 he was using crack and staying out all night. Because of his wife's devotion and perseverance, he entered rehabilitation in March 1986, the season when the Giants won the Super Bowl, beating the Denver Broncos, the first championship season for New York since 1956. Taylor was named the NFL's Most Valuable Player.

Because of a players' strike and a hamstring injury, Taylor played in only nine games in 1987. Nevertheless, he was named to the Pro Bowl team and the All-NFL team for the seventh year in a row. In 1988 he received a four-game suspension for drug use. The following year, he seemed to have recovered and led the Giants to the playoffs. In 1990, after a season of eleven sacks, one interception, and ninety-three tackles, Taylor made NFL history as the only player ever to be named to the Pro Bowl ten times. The same year, Taylor had a lackluster game in the Giants' second Super Bowl victory, but the team beat the Buffalo Bills anyway.

Age and injuries, along with drugs and personal problems, took their toll, and Taylor retired in January 1994 with a career total of 1321/ 2 sacks, 1,088 tackles, 33 forced fumbles, 10 fumble recoveries, and 9 interceptions. His number 56 jersey was retired by the Giants in 1994, and in 1999 Taylor was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. As dominant as he was on the gridiron, Taylor's personal life was in shambles. After retirement, he was involved in a number of incidents involving traffic violations, non-payment of taxes and child support, and drug offenses in New Jersey, South Carolina, and Florida. With five children by three different women and paternity suits totaling $74,000 in 1998, Taylor found himself unable to pay the bills and was forced to declare bankruptcy. He lives in Florida and makes a living selling memorabilia on home shopping channels and making personal appearances.

Although his life after his football career ended has not been happy, during his career Taylor's combination of great intensity, speed, and muscle redefined the way the outside linebacker position was played. No longer would the line-backer read and react to quarterback moves; he would now charge past offensive linemen and attack the passer aggressively, looking not only to sack the quarterback but also to create fumbles. Taylor had an innate sense of the game. In his autobiography he wrote, "I was born for football the way some people are born to be engineers or musicians." Due in large part to Taylor's presence, the Giants had a ten-year winning streak in which they made the playoffs six times and won two Super Bowls. Since leaving the NFL, Taylor has also appeared in several movies, including Any Given Sunday (1999) and Shaft (2000).

Taylor's autobiography, LT: Living on the Edge, written with David Falkner (1987), gives an honest account of his personal problems along with his perceptions about his career. Dan Herschberg, Lawrence Taylor (1998), is also useful. In an article in Sports Illustrated, "LT on LT" (16 Sept. 1991), Taylor discusses racism, his relations with the press, and playing in New York. Several articles on Taylor and his exploits have appeared in the New York Times (21 Dec. 1981, 4 Jan. 1987, 23 Jan. 1994, 14 May 1998, and 25 Oct. 1998).

John J. Byrnem

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