Taylor, Lawrence 1959–
Lawrence Taylor 1959–
Former professional football player
During the 1980s, Lawrence Taylor was one of the NFL’s most dominant players. As an extremely gifted linebacker, he led the New York Giants to two Super Bowl victories. Despite his accomplishments on the football field, Taylor was plagued by financial problems and an addiction to cocaine. However, these problems did not diminish his remarkable accomplishments in the NFL. In 1999, he was inducted into professional football’s Hall of Fame.
Taylor was born on February 4, 1959 in Williamsburg, Virginia, one of Clarence and Iris Taylor’s three sons. His father worked in the shipyards in Newport News, and his mother worked odd jobs to earn extra money for the family. Taylor grew up playing baseball and singing in the choir at his church. His first experience with football came during his sophomore year in high school. After almost quitting the team in his junior year, he found himself in the starting lineup midway through the season. During his senior season, Taylor became a star at defensive end and at the tight end position. Although he was not heavily recruited by universities with notable football programs, Taylor accepted a scholarship to the University of North Carolina after his graduation from high school in 1977.
In his first year at North Carolina, Taylor played exclusively on special teams. The team compiled an 8–3–1 record in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). Off the field, Taylor was called “The Monster” because of his reputation for wild behavior. During his sophomore year, he was hampered by injuries and finished the season with only eight tackles. Taylor told Michael Shapiro of the New York Times about his attitude in college, “It was party time in college. I was bad. I used to go downtown and get into fights all the time. I was trying to be a hoodlum in college, going to frat houses and destroying everything. I had a reputation in Chapel Hill that nobody messed with L.T I kind of liked that[00fe]Then I learned another way to get respect from people. That’s what it’s all about, getting respect.” He soon discovered that it was more important to earn respect on the football field rather than for his outlandish behavior off the field. As a junior, Taylor was a key part of a team that finished 8–3–1 and made an appearance in the Gator Bowl. The Tarheels defeated Michigan, 17–15, and Taylor made the play of the game by sacking Michigan quarterback John Wangler to stop a key drive. He finished the year with 80 solo tackles and five sacks.
Born Lawrence Julius Taylor, February 4, 1959, in Williamsburg, VA; son of Clarence and Iris Taylor. Education: attended the University of North Carolina.
Career: Played football at the University of North Carolina, 1977–80; drafted second overall by the New York Giants, 1981; starting linebacker for the New York Giants, 1981–92; retired from the NFL, 1993.
Awards: First team All-American and the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year, l980; NFL Rookie of the Year, 1981; Pro Bowl selection, 1981–90; NFL Defensive Player of the Year, 1981, 1982, 1986; NFL’s Most Valuable Player, 1986; member of the NFL’s All 1980’s team, 1990; named to NFL’s 75th Anniversary Team, 1994; elected on the first ballot to the NFL’s Hall of Fame, 1999.
Addresses: Home —Upper Saddle River, NJ; Business —c\o The Pro Football Hall of Fame, 2121 George Halas Drive NW, Canton, OH 44708.
During Taylor’s final season at North Carolina in 1980, the team won its first seven games enroute to an 11–1 record. The Tarheels won the ACC title, and Taylor was named a first team All-American and the ACC Player of the Year. Taylor racked up 55 solo tackles and 16 sacks. After playing in the East-West Shrine Game, Taylor withdrew from North Carolina to prepare for the NFL draft.
On April 28, 1981, Taylor was the second player picked in the first round by the New York Giants. The Giants general manager, George Young, told Michael Katz of the New York Times about the decision to draft Taylor, “It was not a difficult decision to make. You can’t pass up a guy who you think will be a Pro Bowler for ten years. You can’t tell yourself that you need help at another position.” Taylor joined a team that already had a solid linebacking core. The Giants signed the rookie to a big contract, and changed their whole defensive scheme to accommodate a player who had never played a single down in the NFL. Taylor quickly dispelled any doubts about his abilities with his dominating play during his first practice as a Giant. In his first season, the Giants made the playoffs for the first time in 18 years and won their wildcard playoff game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Taylor led the team with 133 tackles and 9.5 sacks. He was named Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, and was a unanimous choice for the All-Pro team.
Taylor’s second NFL season got off to a rocky start. He injured his foot during the preseason, and then the NFL players went on strike. After the players strike was resolved, Taylor regained his form and was named to the Pro Bowl for the second straight year. He was again named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. After such an impressive second season, Taylor held out for more money before his third season. He missed most of the preseason, and returned only after the Giants management promised to talk about a new contract after the season. Late in 1983, Taylor signed a deal with the New Jersey Generals of the now-defunct United States Football League (USFL). The Giants were forced to buy out Taylor’s USFL contract and offer their star linebacker a substantial raise, or risk having him bolt to the rival league. During the mid-1980s, the Giants steadily improved as Taylor became the most dominant player in the game. Following the 1985 season, he gained notoriety for a different reason. Sportscaster Howard Cosell broke the story that Taylor was addicted to cocaine and had spent time in a rehabilitation center. Taylor confirmed the rumors, but then refused to speak to the media about the subject.
In 1986, the Giants defense led the team on a 12 game winning streak and a first-place finish in the NFC East. In the first round of the playoffs, the Giants crushed the San Francisco 49ers by a score of 49–3, and then blanked the Washington Redskins, 17–0. The Giants went on to face the AFC-champion Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. During the second half, the Giants blew the game open and cruised to a 39–20 victory and the NFL Championship. In 1986, Taylor had set a Giants record by compiling 105 tackles, 20 1\2 sacks, and three forced fumbles. Those efforts earned him a unanimous selection as the NFL’s Most Valuable Player, a spot on the All-NFL team, and a sixth consecutive start in the Pro Bowl. Despite these achievements, Taylor told Frank Litsky of the New York Times that his years as a football player were taking their toll, “I’m a guy who’s starting to get old, not as old as some but a lot older than others. I’m a lot slower than I used to be. I get tired easier … It’s not distressing. I compensate with other things. I’m a little smarter than I used to be. I try to use that to my advantage.”
After their Super Bowl victory, the Giants and their star linebacker seemed to go downhill. Taylor was hampered throughout most of the 1987 season by a hamstring injury. The NFL also experienced labor problems. Players were locked out, and two games were staffed by replacement players. The Giants finished the season with a disappointing 6–9 record. In 1988, Taylor was suspended for the first four games of the season when he tested positive for cocaine. After serving his suspension, Taylor returned to the lineup. However, the Giants missed the playoffs for the second year in a row. The team made the playoffs in 1989, but lost at home in the first round.
After three sub-par seasons, Taylor started the 1990 season by holding out for most of training camp. Five days before the Giants first regular season game, he signed a new contract and recorded five sacks in limited action during the season opener. The Giants went on to post an excellent 13–3 record. In the playoffs, the Giants routed the Chicago Bears, and then defeated the San Francisco 49ers to advance to Super Bowl XXV against the Buffalo Bills. The Giants completed their season with a stunning 20–19 championship victory over the favored Bills.
Coach Bill Parcells left the Giants following the 1990 season, and the team experienced a decline. Taylor had made up his mind to retire at the end of the 1992 season, but missed the last six weeks of the season with an Achilles tendon injury. He came back for one more season in 1993, and led his team to an 11–5 record and a playoff berth. Although the Giants lost to the 49ers in the playoffs, Taylor’s list of accomplishments were notable. Over a 13–year career, Taylor recorded 132 1\2 sacks, and was a unanimous choice for the NFL’s All-1980’s team. He was also selected for the NFL’s 75th Anniversary Team. Following the 1993 season, Taylor announced his retirement from the NFL.
After retiring from the NFL, Taylor started his own company, All Pro Products, Inc. The company went public at 5 a share, and financial observers watched in amazement as the company tripled in value during the first month of its existence. The stock price went up to 15.50 a share, but it turned out that the unbelievable growth of All Pro Products was illusory. The Securities and Exchange Commission found that two traders had manipulated the price of the stock, which skyrocketed despite the fact that the company lost over 900,000. In the end, Taylor lost several hundred thousand dollars and the company’s stock, which was once valued at 10.8 million, was worth only pennies. Despite these financial struggles, Taylor stayed in the limelight by appearing in Wrestlemania XI. Taylor and several other NFL stars performed in a much-hyped bout with World Wrestling Federation bad-guy, Bam Bam Bigelow.
Unfortunately, Taylor’s life seemed to spiral out of control. In May of 1996, Taylor was in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for a celebrity golf tournament when he was arrested for trying to buy 100 worth of crack cocaine from an undercover police officer. Taylor received 60 hours of community service, checked into another rehab center, and was made to undergo random drug tests. He also received three summons for traffic violations, pleaded guilty to filing a false income tax return, and was questioned by a state-grand jury about his ties to organized crime. In an article by New York Times reporter Mike Freeman, Taylor was quoted as saying, “My whole life seems like it’s in the toilet. Well, it’s going to be in the toilet now … I ought to kill myself.”
In May of 1998, Taylor was arrested for failing to pay child support. He was released after spending 12 hours in jail and paying 4, 429 in back child support. In addition to paying 12,000 a year for the care of his daughter, Wendy, Taylor paid 50,000 a year to his former wife Deborah and their three children, and another 12,000 a year to a fifth child. All of these support payments could not be maintained on Taylor’s 50,000 to 100,000 yearly income. His lawyer, Michael T. Melani, told David M. Herszenhorn of the New York Times, “His current financial situation has deteriorated substantially since his days as a football player. We will be making a request to reduce (his support payments) to a sum that he could afford. He’s struggling and he’s doing everything he can to take care of his obligations. Like everybody else, he was very embarrassed.” Along with these financial problems, Taylor was arrested in St. Petersburg, Florida at a charity golf tournament for trying to buy 50 of crack cocaine from an undercover police officer. Although Taylor insisted that he was framed, he entered a drug rehabilitation center and declared bankruptcy to prevent foreclosure on his mansion in Upper Saddle River, NJ.
In the midst of his financial and legal troubles, Taylor was listed among the 76 candidates eligible for the NFL Hall of Fame. It was feared that many voters would overlook the accomplishments of his stellar NFL career and reject him because of his personal problems. However, Taylor was voted into the Hall of Fame in January of 1999. In a 1994 article in the New York Times, Taylor’s former coach Bill Parcells summed up Taylor’s career, “This sounds corny, but I think he was the consummate team player. He was very easy to coach because all you had to do was show him where the competition was. He wasn’t selfish statistically. If we didn’t win, he felt like he had failed no matter what he did. When people talk about who was the best outside linebacker, they’re not going to put him in a group with seven or eight others. The bus station is full of guys who were going to be the next Lawrence Taylor.”
Hershberg, Dan. Lawrence Taylor. Chelsea House Publishers: Philadelphia, PA. 1998
New York Times, December 21, 1981; January 4, 1987; January 23, 1994; May 14, 1998; October 25, 1998.
—Michael J. Watkins
American football player
Lawrence Taylor lived on the edge. Quite possibly one of the best linebackers to play the game, Taylor starred for the New York Giants and set a new standard for how linebackers played the game. He brought about a new statistic (the sack), and was a dominant player whose personal life was plagued with substance abuse problems. His induction into the Hall of Fame, in 1999, was marked by controversy due to his problems with drugs.
Lawrence Taylor was born on February 4, 1959, in Williamsburg, Virginia. He grew up in a four-room
frame house on the outskirts of the restored colonial village. Hailing from a middle-class environment, Taylor was the middle brother of three, and his parents have remembered his early years as active ones. Taylor was physical even as a small child. "He liked to hit," his father Clarence told New York Times Magazine. His mother made Taylor spend hours working at chores around the house to keep him occupied, sweeping the floors, carrying in groceries.
At age nine, Taylor wrote down that he wanted to be famous and to be a millionaire before he reached 30. But he'd have to do it in some other way, because he was not a very diligent student, and although bright, he never turned on to what was offered him in the public education system.
Taylor wanted to play little league football, but his mother was worried about the dangers of the sport, so she signed him up for little league baseball, where he was an all-star for four summers in the position of catcher. As a catcher, just as he later did as a linebacker, he was able to survey all that was happening on the field. (In his later life he would say he loved the position of linebacker because "you control the game from there," much like the catcher does in baseball by calling the pitches and reading the field.)
Lawrence's high school coach, Mel Jones, had to do little to convince Taylor that football, not baseball, would be a great opportunity for him. He said that football was how he could earn a college scholarship, telling him that, "If you were black and from the rural South, you thought about football the way other kids thought about careers in law or medicine."
LT (as he came to be known later on with the New York Giants) continued to grow, and the summer between his junior and senior years in high school he grew five inches and added 30 pounds. That senior year of high school was as if a switch had turned on. "He was out to do something," Paul Raynes told the New York Times Magazine. "It was like he was saying 'I'm going to be great.'"
Limited College Opportunities
His late entry into football was one of the reasons he was largely skipped over by college recruiters. Only two recruiters spoke to him about college ball. The University of North Carolina offered him a scholarship, in spite of his poor grades, and Taylor wouldn't turn it down.
|1959||Born February 4 in Williamsburg, Virginia, to Clarence and Iris Taylor|
|1968||Writes down that he wants to be famous and a millionaire before age of 30|
|1968||Starts Little League football, but mother decides it's too dangerous, signs him up for baseball instead|
|1973||Picks up game of football as high school junior|
|1977||Begins college football career at University of North Carolina|
|1981||Picked second overall in NFL draft by the NY Giants|
|1982||Marries Linda Cooley|
|1984||Investigation by NFL of Taylor's friendship with New Jersey bar owner Vinnie Rabo|
|1985||Ordered by North Carolina judge to buy house for former girlfriend and pay child support|
|1985||Ends Joe The isman's career by breaking his leg in nationally televised Monday Night Football game|
|1986||Enters rehabilitation program for drug abuse|
|1986||Emerges from treatment and has best season of his career|
|1986||Leads Giants to their first Super Bowl victory|
|1987||Crosses the NFL players association picket line during a strike|
|1987||Tests positive for drugs and suspended for four games|
|1990||Recovers from drug addiction, leads Giants to their second Super Bowl victory|
|1993||Announces his retirement at the end of the season|
|1994||Sees his jersey, #56, retired by the NY Giants|
|1995||Signed by WWF to battle 390 pound Bam Bam Biegelow in feature match of Wrestlemania XI|
|1999||Inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame|
|1999||Plays part of Luther "Shark" Lavay in Oliver Stone football film Any Given Sunday|
He entered college with the belief that he needed to raise hell, skip classes and get into trouble in order to survive. "I was trying to be a hoodlum," Taylor told the New York Times in 1984. He felt that by instilling fear into people, he could gain their respect. And for LT, that's what it was all about. But his social life followed him onto the field, and his first few years with UNC football were rather undisciplined. His inability to focus had him bouncing from noseguard to inside linebacker to outside linebacker.
The coaches finally saw where to put him and gave him a green light to make the inside linebacker position his own. They told LT to rely on his instincts, and he ended up with eighty solo tackles his junior year, forcing seven fumbles. Teams were scared, and the only team that season who tried to confront the menace that was Lawrence Taylor was Oklahoma, which used three men to block him.
As his college career wound down, he met and fell in love with Linda Cooley, a soft-spoken woman who admonished him for his constant belligerence. Taylor's close friends told him he would have to change his ways or risk losing the girl. And he did, proposing to Linda and then marrying her in 1982.
The Next Level
The New York Giants drafted Taylor as the second pick overall in the 1981 draft. He signed a six-year, $1.35 million contract with a $250,000 signing bonus. Taylor's entire time on the NFL field might itself be one long highlight. From the very first season, Taylor was more than impressive. He was voted All-Pro that first year, and he started in the Pro Bowl. In a 1981 article in the Boston Globe, Taylor's teammate and cornerback Terry Jackson said, "Lawrence is probably the greatest athlete I've ever been associated with."
He became the standard against which all other linebackers were compared. His intimidation of and subsequent racking up of quarterback sacks prompted the league to institute the "number of sacks" statistic, which prior to Taylor's entrance into the league had not been kept.
Searching for Greener Pastures
Upset with the overall performance of the Giants in the 1982 and 1983 seasons, Taylor shopped around for better deals with other teams. Though his contract with the Giants ran through 1987, and the team wouldn't trade him, he signed a deal with the New Jersey Generals, a USFL team, that would begin in 1988.
But the Giants counter-offered, and Taylor stayed with the team. In 1986, they would win their first ever Super Bowl, with Taylor playing an integral part. It would be the best season of his career, with 20.5 sacks and the winning of the coveted NFL's Most Valuable Player (MVP) award—only the second defensive player to ever win the award.
Sam Huff, who prior to LT's entrance into the league, was considered the ultimate linebacker, has said of Taylor, in a 1987 Philadelphia Daily News article: "He's fantastic. I've never seen anyone play the position better. He's so relentless…You've got to be a hell of a player to psyche out guys at this level, but Taylor can do it. When he wants to play, he's like some monster come down off a movie screen. He just tosses people around."
Off the Gridiron
Though he was a phenomenal success on the field, off the field Taylor's troubles would escalate. LT became well known in the New York media for complaining about the city and its pressures. This was not the relationship he wanted with the press when, with the success, money, and pressures of life in the NFL taking its toll, Taylor would sink into substance abuse.
He handled the pressures of success by turning to his old college habits—and then some. Drinking heavily ("Lawrence could put away a case in a night," friend Joseph Cale told the Washington Post ), staying out late, and lacking discipline, his performance on the field, though still outstanding, looked, in the mid-eighties, to be slipping. Then word got out that Taylor was abusing cocaine.
Awards and Accomplishments
|1981||East-West Shrine All-Star Team|
|1981||Japan Bowl All-Star Team|
|1981||Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year|
|1982||NFL Player Association NFC Linebacker of the Year|
|1982||Associated Press NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year|
|1982||Bell Trophy (the season's top rookie)|
|1982-83, 1986||Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year|
|1982-84, 1986||Seagram's Seven Crowns of Sports Award|
|1982-91||NFL Pro Bowl team|
|1983, 1985-86||NFL All-Pro Team|
|1983, 1986||United Press International NFC Defensive Player of the Year|
|1986||Professional Football Writers of America NFL Player of the Year|
|1989||Associated Press All-Pro Team|
|1989||United Press International All-NFC Team|
|1989||Professional Football Writers of America All-Pro Team|
|1994||NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team|
|1999||Pro Football Hall of Fame|
Where Is He Now?
Inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1999, Taylor continues to work at getting his life back on track, and, like most who have battled substance abuse problems, every day is a struggle. He has had parts recently in movies such as The Waterboy (1997), Shaft (2000), and Any Given Sunday, a 1999 film he had a larger part in. The movie starred Jamie Foxx and Al Pacino, and was, as Roger Ebert put it, "A smart sports movie swamped by production overkill." Oliver Stone directed the film, and Taylor has a strong supporting role. Taylor has also done voices for video games, one of the most recent is "Grand Theft Auto."
Looking for Help
In the spring of 1986, Taylor checked himself into a rehabilitation program for substance abuse. The statement he issued at the time said: "In the past year, due to substance abuse, I have left the road I had hoped to follow both as a player and a public figure." When he emerged from treatment, he went on to have the best season of his career with the Giants, leading them to a Super Bowl victory. But Taylor would lead an on-again, off-again relationship with substance abuse.
Lawrence Taylor's off-the-field problems stirred up controversy when he was nominated for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1999. The Washington Post that year reported that some of the thirty-six media members who voted for the Hall of Fame were prepared "to bypass Taylor because of his legal troubles that include drug-related arrests and income tax problems." Taylor didn't help the situation by refusing to apologize about his past. But the guidelines for entrance into the Hall asked voters to consider only on-the-field accomplishments. Taylor was voted in.
Lawrence Taylor gained his reputation by doing things outside the lines. Though quite possibly one of the best linebackers to play the game, he's often referred to in the context of "drug abuse" or "breaking Joe Theisman's leg" (which happened in a now-famous Monday Night Football game). But Taylor is so much more than that. He starred for the New York Giants, setting new standards for how linebackers operated on the field. Taylor brought about the sack statistic, and he dominated the playing field. His personal life was plagued with substance abuse problems, yet because of his behavior off the field, his induction into the Hall of Fame and his reputation is one marked by controversy.
|NYG: New York Giants.|
SELECTED WRITINGS BY TAYLOR:
(With David Falkner) LT: Living on the Edge, Times Books, 1987.
Goodman, Michael E. Lawrence Taylor (Sports Close Ups 2). New York: Crestwood House, 1988.
"Lawrence Taylor." Great Athletes, vol. 7. Hackensack, N.J.: Salem Press, Inc., 2718-2720.
Liss, Howard. The Lawrence Taylor Story. Enslow Publishers, Inc., 1987.
Taylor, Lawrence, with David Falkner. LT: Living on the Edge. New York: Times Books, 1987.
Adande, J.A. "NFL Should Honor Taylor with Blitz of Attention Instead of Seemingly Low-Key Approach to Hall of Fame Induction." Los Angeles Times (August 7, 1999): 2.
Boston Globe (December 13, 1981).
Boston Globe (October 14, 1984).
Boston Globe (January 21, 1987).
Bradley, J.E. "LT and the Home Team." Esquire (December 1985): 306.
Contemporary Newsmakers 1987, Issue Cumulation. Detroit: Gale, 1988.
Delcos, John. "LT is winning the Battle With Time." Football Digest (April 1991): 44.
Ellenport, Craig. "The defense rests." Sport (January 1993): 48.
Huff, Melissa. "Football legend discusses addiction." Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service (August 23, 1996).
Lieber, Jill. "Blitzed by himself. (Lawrence Taylor admits substance-abuse problem)." Sports Illustrated (September 19, 1988): 53.
Lieber, Jill. "Invincible? No, Just Real Mean." Sports Illustrated (January 26, 1987): 36.
Los Angeles Times (September 7, 1986).
Los Angeles Times (January 23, 1987).
Maske, Mark. "Taylor is Elected to Hall of Fame." Washington Post (January 31, 1999): D01.
Myers, Gary. "Phil Simms, Lawrence Taylor leave a gaping hole in Giants' heart." Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service (July 13, 1994).
New York Times (August 2, 1985).
New York Times (March 21, 1986).
New York Times (January 4, 1987).
New York Times (March 25, 1987).
Philadelphia Daily News (October 9, 1986).
Philadelphia Daily News (January 16, 1987).
Philadelphia Daily News (January 21, 1987).
Shapiro, Milton. "Search and Destroy." New York Times Magazine (August 26, 1984): 18.
Simers, T.J. "Shame on 'Fame If Taylor Is Voted In." Los Angeles Times (January 26, 1999): 2.
Sports Illustrated (April 1, 1985).
Springer, Steve. "Tagliabue Gives His Vote to Taylor for Hall of Fame." Los Angeles Times (January 30, 1999): 6.
Stanton, Barry. "Interview: Lawrence Taylor." Sport (November 1985): 17.
Washington Post (April 6, 1986).
Washington Post (January 8, 1987).
Washington Post (January 14, 1987).
Washington Post (January 21, 1987).
Washington Post (February 27, 1987).
Washington Post (March 23, 1987).
Zimmerman, Paul. "Don't Cross This Line." Sports Illustrated (September 5, 1994): 50.
Zimmerman, Paul. "Terrific Tayloring." Sports Illustrated (September 17, 1990): 30-37.
"Lawrence Taylor Pro Football Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony." http://www.bbwc.com/History/taylor-hof.html/ (November 10, 2002).
Sketch by Eric Lagergren