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Lex Of It: Giants Ultimate Legend No. 56

New York Giants legend Lawrence ‘L.T.’ Taylor played his entire career with the Big Blue. Taylor is widely regarded as one of the greatest linebackers and one of the greatest defensive players of all time. He played college football at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is also widely regarded as one of the greatest college football players ever.

Giants Selected L.T. Second Overall In 1981 NFL Draft

Lawrence L.T. Taylor was drafted by the Giants in the first round as the 2nd pick overall in the 1981 NFL Draft. In a poll of NFL General Managers, taken before the draft 26 of the league’s 28 GMs said if they had the first selection, they would select Taylor. One of the two GMs who said they would not take Taylor was Bum Phillips, who had just been hired as coach and a general manager by the New Orleans Saints.

As fate would have it for Taylor, the Saints were also the team who had the first pick in the draft. Giants GM George Young predicted before the draft that he would be better than NFL legends such as Dick Butkus:

“Taylor is the best college linebacker I’ve ever seen. Sure, I saw Dick Butkus play. There’s no doubt in my mind about Taylor. He’s bigger and stronger than Butkus was. On the blitz, he’s devastating.”

Early In Taylor’s Career

L.T.’s talent was evident from the start of training camp. Reports came out of the Giants training compound of the exploits of the new phenom. Taylor’s teammates took to calling him Superman and joked that his locker should be replaced with a phone booth.

“on the pass rush, he’s an animal. He’s either going to run around you or over you. With his quickness, he’s full speed after two steps.” Phil Simms, the team’s quarterback, said

L.T. made his NFL exhibition debut on August 8, 1981, recording 2 sacks in the Giants’ 23–7 win over the Chicago Bears. Before the season word spread around the league about Taylor. Years after facing him in an exhibition game, Pittsburgh Steelers Quarterback Terry Bradshaw recalled,

“[h]e 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.

Championships

In 1986, L.T. had one of the most successful seasons by a defensive player in the history of the NFL. He recorded a league-leading 20.5 sacks and became one of just two defensive players to win the NFL Most Valuable Player award and the only defensive player to be the unanimous selection for MVP. He also was named DPOY for the third time.

The Giants finished the season 14–2 and outscored San Francisco and Washington by a combined score of 66–3 in the NFC playoffs. He appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated alone the week leading up to Super Bowl XXI with a warning from the magazine to the Denver Broncos regarding Taylor. The Giants overcame a slow start in Super Bowl XXI to defeat Denver 39–20. Taylor made a key touchdown preventing tackle on a goal line play in the first half, stopping Broncos quarterback John Elway as he sprinted out on a rollout.

With the Super Bowl win, Taylor capped off an unprecedented start to his career. After six years, he had been named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award (1981), NFL Defensive Player of the Year a record three times (1981, 1982, 1986), First-team All-Pro six times, becoming the first defensive player in NFL history unanimously voted the league’s MVP (1986), and led his team to a championship (1986). After the win, however, Taylor felt let down rather than elated.

When the Super Bowl was over. Everyone was so excited, but by then I felt deflated. I’d won every award, had my best season, finally won the Super Bowl. I was on top of the world right? So what could be next? Nothing. The thrill is the chase to get to the top. Every day the excitement builds and builds and builds, and then when you’re finally there and the game is over. And then, nothing. said, Taylor

Final Years

After the 1990 season, Bill Parcells retired, and the team was taken over by Ray Handley. 1991 marked a steep decline in Taylor’s production. It became the first season in his career in which he failed to make the Pro Bowl squad, after setting a then record by making it in his first ten years in the league. Taylor finished with 7 sacks in 14 games and the Giants’ defense, while still respectable, was no longer one of the top units in the league.

L.T. rebounded in the early stages of what many thought would be his final season in 1992. Through close to nine games, Taylor was on pace for 10 sacks and the Giants were 5–4. However, a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered in a game on November 8, 1992, against Green Bay sidelined him for the final seven games, during which the team went 1–6. Before the injury, Taylor had missed only four games due to injury in his 12-year career.

Throughout the 1992 season, and the ensuing offseason, L.T. was noncommittal about his future, alternately saying he might retire, then later hinting he wanted a longer-term contract.

L.T. returned for the 1993 season enticed by the chance to play with a new coach (Dan Reeves) and determined not to end his career due to an injury. The Giants had a resurgent season in 1993. They finished 11–5 and competed for the top NFC playoff seed. Taylor finished with 6 sacks, and the Giants’ defense led the NFL in the fewest points allowed. They defeated the Minnesota Vikings 17–10 in the opening round of the playoffs. The next week on January 15, 1994, in what would be Taylor’s final game, the Giants were beaten 44–3 by the San Francisco 49ers. As the game concluded, television cameras drew in close on Taylor who was crying.

“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 said in a post game press conference

Taylor ended his career with 1,089 tackles, 132.5 sacks (not counting the 9.5 sacks he recorded as a rookie because sacks did not become an official statistic until 1982), nine interceptions, 134 return yards, two touchdowns, 33 forced fumbles, 11 fumble recoveries, and 34 fumble return yards.


L.T.’s Legacy

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. John Madden

Taylor is considered one of the best players to ever play in the NFL and has been ranked as the top defensive player in league history by some news outlets, media members, former players, and coaches. He has also been described as one of the most “feared” and “intimidating” players in NFL history. Taylor’s explosive speed and power are credited with changing the position of outside linebacker from a “read and react” type of position to a more attacking, aggressive position.

Washington Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs developed the two tight end offense and the position of H-back to prevent Taylor from blitzing into the backfield unhindered.

“We had to try in some way have a special game plan just for Lawrence Taylor. Now you didn’t do that very often in this league but I think he’s one person that we learned the lesson the hard way. We lost ball games.”

His skills changed the way offensive coaches blocked linebackers. In the late ’70s and early In the ’80s, a blitzing linebacker was picked up by a running back. However, these players were no match for Taylor. The tactic employed by San Francisco 49ers head coach Bill Walsh in the 1982 playoffs, using an offensive guard to block Taylor, was copied around the league. However, this left a hole in pass protection that a blitzing middle linebacker could exploit.

Later, Walsh and other coaches began using offensive tackles to block Taylor. Later it became common for offensive linemen to pick up blitzing linebackers. In addition to the changes in offensive schemes Taylor influenced, he also introduced new defensive techniques to the game such as chopping the ball out of the quarterback’s hands rather than tackling him.

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