Call it a fall from grace, call it greed, but when Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor put his Super Bowl XXV ring up for auction, the deeper symbolism was that the former New York Giants star — arguably among the greatest players in the history of the NFL — had squandered all opportunity and the gift he had been given.
L.T. could shed blockers, make chase across the field and destroy opposing quarterbacks effortlessly, yet he could never get out of his own way. Since his earliest days with the Giants, the violent and defiant Taylor had demons that would never leave his side.
Contrary to belief, Taylor always put the team first, though one could argue that his escapades — the suspensions; the run-ins with the law; the shady characters running his sports bar; the 30-day suspension after failing a second drug test; the mysterious “bad fettuccine” defense after he was found by police parked on the side of the road in the midst of throwing up; the failed business ventures; the violent public outbursts; never ending battles with cocaine; divorce; prostitutes — did have an impact on the team, but those problems only scratched the surface.
His threshold for pain is legendary. He turned in one of the best games of his career with a torn pectoral muscle against the New Orleans Saints, notching seven tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles. He fought to get back on the field with every ache, every injury. Trainers used to hide his helmet to keep him off the field when he was injured.
His fierce and tenacious style shocked the league almost from his first practice, when the No. 2 pick in the 1981 NFL Draft blew up the offense during his first training camp appearances. Play after play, sack after sack — it all exemplified Lawrence Taylor, the player. You’ve seen the clips of Taylor talking about hitting a quarterback so hard that “snot bubbles” would come out of his victim’s nose, or attacking the opposing offense like a bunch of “crazed dogs.” As a player, L.T. was an admitted adrenalin junkie, an inarguable fact if you watched the way he played.
Lawrence Taylor, the man, was a disaster, however. During his playing days Taylor never really got it from a public relations perspective. This guy could have been bigger than former Chicago Bulls great Michael Jordan before Jordan ever hit the scene, yet his demeanor, ignorance to the system and belligerence in the eyes of the public kept him from achieving great success after his career was over.
Many of his former teammates — Phil Simms, Carl Banks, Harry Carson, Mark Bavaro, Gary Reasons, Phil McConkey, Leonard Marshall, George Martin — went on to greater things in life, whether in sports media or otherwise. Shame he couldn’t follow along.
Taylor could still have been in the public eye, or at least revered as a hero, yet he never understood. He failed to grasp the fact that all he had to do was stay out of trouble and it would all come to him, like so many bees to honey. The Giants had high hopes that he would have fallen under the tutelage of Carson and Martin, gaining guidance and wisdom. Instead he ran through New York City with his own posse and teammates like Brad Van Pelt and Brian Kelley, two great guys but also two professional party monsters back in the early 1980s.
The greatest linebacker who ever lived has fallen so hard that he has been reduced to taking offers for his proudly-worn Super Bowl ring Reportedly, the top bid as of May 18 was in the mid-$85,000 range and climbing. For money, not for charity and not for anyone else, but because he’s likely broke. On Friday, he began telling friends in the media that he had “no idea” that the ring was being auctioned off and that his sons made it happen. Believe what you will.
To be fair, Taylor didn’t play in the days when a player of his stature could command the double-digit, multimillion dollar contract that he might have today. But had he had Jordan’s personality and smarts, a few endorsements here and there and he would still be a rich man.
L.T. is gone; his No. 56 jersey retired forever and the hits and sacks fading now.
Today, he is a disgraced, fallen star.