Thursday, March 24, 2011

My interview with Lawrence Taylor

The year was 1981. I was studying communications at William Paterson University, and we were producing a news show that was broadcast on local access. We were all huge sports fans, and wrote to the Giants, asking if we could come to practice one day at Giants Stadium to interview some players for our show (I had already starting working as a part-time sportswriter at my first newspaper, the Morristown (N.J.) Daily Record, and had the correct contact info). To our mild surprise, they said yes.

I remember walking into what seemed like a cavernous locker room. I'm sure three college students with a huge honking video camera sort of stood out. We wandered around the center of the room for a few moments, not even realizing we weren't supposed to be there until someone came over and let us know that.

Not just anyone, but Giants head coach Ray Perkins, who walked purposely up to us and in his Alabama drawl said, "Can I help you?" He directed us to the "waiting area," which had a leather sofa and a couple of chairs, where we waited for our interview subjects. We asked for quarterback Scott Brunner (Phil Simms was battling one of his many injuries), kicker Joe Danelo and rookie linebacker and top draft pick Lawrence Taylor.

I don't really remember the questions and answers, and I'm sure the tape no longer exists, but what I do remember was how shy and unassuming Taylor was during our interview. He was very quiet and soft-spoken, and had not yet assumed his "LT" alter ego.

As Giants fans, we were all thrilled by the experience, and as Taylor developed into perhaps the most feared defensive player in the history of the game, we got a kick out of saying "we knew him when."

Trouble away from football would find Taylor plenty of times throughout his career. I know that most of us had tended to wink and forgive him for many of those past transgressions. Even an NFL Films piece on Taylor, produced after his retirement in 1993, referred to his "off-the-field problems," and included a quote from him on life as a retired NFL legend:

"As time goes by," he said, behind a shot of a happy-looking Taylor with his wife and three children, "it's made it easier to transition away from LT and back to Lawrence Taylor. I don't want it to get to a point where I start to get a big head about myself."

We still revered him. Several of my friends and I piled into a car and drove from New Jersey to Canton, Ohio for his induction into the Hall of Fame. We enjoyed watching him on "The Sopranos," playing himself and hearing Tony call him "Lawrence of the Meadowlands," and his appearance at Giants Stadium on Phil Simms night, wearing No. 56 and catching a long pass from Simms to a standing ovation. His stature as one of the greatest Giants ever swept most of the unsavory stuff under the rug, and we were more than happy to hold the brooms, and sincerely hoped he could get his personal life figured out -- maybe as much for our sake as his.

This week, Taylor received six years probation for a sex crime with a minor, and is now a registered sex offender. He said a prostitute visiting him in a hotel room told him she was 19, when she was in fact 16. Instead of being contrite and apologetic, he was combative and clueless during an interview with Fox News. Two quotes stand out:

"It's the world of prostitution. You never know what you're going to get. Is is going to be a pretty girl or an ugly girl or whatever it's going to be."

And ...

"I don't card 'em. I don't ask for a birth certificate."

Apparently, the transition from LT to Lawrence Taylor hasn't gone so well. Or perhaps they're one and the same. Hard to believe this is the same guy who once spoke so quietly I could barely hear him.

I can't speak for all Giants fans, but to me, this is the tipping point. Sex offender. Bad guy. I don't know if I can ever think of him any other way again.

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