For more than three decades, the New York Giants have been one of the most competitive teams in the National Football League, winning four Super Bowls and eight conference championships in that time. Now, Lawrence Taylor—Hall of Fame player and consummate Giant—teams up with William Wyatt to tell the stories of the Giants’ most memorable players and coaches, including Bill Parcells, Rays Perkins, Carl Banks, Harry Carson, and Gary Reasons to name but a few. In My Giant Life, Taylor looks back at the best games, best moments, and behind-the-scenes stories of the men who played and coached for the team.
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About the Author
Lawrence Taylor is a Hall of Fame linebacker who spent 13 seasons, his entire professional career, with the New York Giants. He was second in all-time career sacks at his retirement, was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year three times, and earned 10 Pro Bowls. He lives near Miami, Florida. William Wyatt is a freelance writer whose works have appeared in numerous sports and business publications.
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My Giant Life
By Lawrence Taylor, William Wyatt
Triumph Books LLCCopyright © 2016 Lawrence Taylor
All rights reserved.
Drafted Second by the Giants
George Young wanted to select me with the second pick of the 1981 NFL Draft.
Young worked as the Giants' general manager at the time, and the team wasn't any good. I later learned that the days leading up to that draft were some of Young's most stressful.
Word was he'd grown enamored with me after watching me play against Clemson my senior year at North Carolina. A big part of that had to do with the time I spent in the other team's backfield. I saw a statistic from my senior season that 38 of my 69 tackles happened in the other team's backfield, including 16 sacks. That helped us go 11–1 that season while earning me Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year honors — along with Young's favor. Problem was, the Saints had the top pick.
Everybody knew that the Saints liked South Carolina running back George Rogers. He'd won the Heisman Trophy that year, and Saints coach Bum Phillips thought he could be another Earl Campbell, who had been Phillips' horse when he coached the Houston Oilers from 1975 through 1980. He wanted to make a splash in his first season with the Saints and he saw Rogers as the guy to help take him in that direction.
Rogers stood 6'2", 220 pounds, and averaged six yards a carry for the Gamecocks while leading the nation in rushing.
Phillips believed in a strong running game being able to help an ailing defense. As he told The Sporting News prior to the draft, "The best way to help your defense is to keep it off the field. If you've got a good running game, you use about three times the amount of time as you do passing the ball, because every time you miss a pass, you stop the clock. With a good running game, a 40-or 50-yard drive from your own 20 will eat up five, six, maybe seven minutes and put you in a position to punt them into a hole."
Of course, every plan has a fallback in the NFL, so the Giants had to prepare themselves for the possibility that the Saints might reverse fields and decide to draft me.
Leading up to the draft, the Saints had me come to New Orleans, and I must have made an impression during the visit because I heard their defensive coaches tried to convince Phillips that he needed to draft me with the first pick.
Back in New York, some of the Giants' defensive players were not particularly enamored with the idea that the team would select another linebacker. Looking back, I can't really blame them. They already had a pretty nice group of linebackers with Harry Carson, Brad Van Pelt, and Brian Kelley. The team had gone 4–12 and really needed a running back to help keep some of the heat off quarterback Phil Simms. In addition, those guys knew I'd be getting a big contract. They weren't happy, so they threatened to walk out.
Upon learning about the problems I might be facing with my future Giants teammates, my agent, Mike Trope, and I sent telegrams to the Giants. Mine went to head coach Ray Perkins and Mike's went to Young. We told them if I got picked by the Giants, I wouldn't play for them.
I heard they threw those telegrams in the trash.
Perkins visited me in Chapel Hill before the draft. We watched film together and at some point during that film session he decided he was good with me. I was wearing shorts and a T-shirt so I could work out for them. But Perkins said he didn't need me to do that. We went to dinner later, and that's when he told me I would become a New York Giant.
Later we threatened that I'd play in the Canadian Football League. In addition, the possibility that the Saints might trade their pick continued to exist right up until the draft.
The Dallas Cowboys wanted me, but they knew that the only way they could get me would be to draft in front of the Giants. According to reports, they offered the Saints defensive end Larry Bethea, running back Ron Springs, linebacker Guy Brown, and their No. 1 pick (26th overall) for their No. 1 draft pick. Phillips wouldn't go for it.
On Tuesday, April 28, 1981, the Saints picked George Rogers with the first pick. The Giants were next and my name was called out as their selection at No. 2.
I think the Saints finally decided the morning of the draft that they wanted Rogers, which ended up being a good decision for me because I had my career in New York. I never looked back after that.
Once the Giants selected me, I made the following statement about becoming the team's first-round pick:
"I'm happy to be going to New York, because it's one of the greatest cities in the world. There's so many people who can see you and appreciate you. That's one of the greatest things that can happen to me. I hope to bring the New York people a winner, because that's something they deserve."
I apologized to the Giants for the telegraph I'd sent them. When I spoke to Perkins, I told him I used poor judgment in sending the thing. And some of the players called me and we got straight. Some of what I thought was going on wasn't.
Rogers ended up leading the league in rushing with 1,674 yards in his first season. At the time, that stood as a rookie record. He also was selected as the NFL Rookie of the Year.
Things turned out well for me, too.
When I got there, I was thinking, if y'all don't want me, just trade me somewhere else. But after watching me practice for about 10 minutes everybody thought that drafting me was the right move to make.
I was very fortunate to be drafted by the Giants. I see guys who played in the league a long time. They walk around their town and nobody knows them. People know me in New York. I enjoy the area. I'm treated very well. It's just like the TV show Cheers. You want to go someplace where everybody knows your name.
New York is that for me.
Heading into my rookie season in the NFL, there seemed to be a lot of rules specifying what I could and couldn't do. In college I pretty much had the freedom to do what I wanted and I didn't have to be in a specific area on every play.
During the exhibition season, I managed to lead the team in sacks, with four, but I was limited to certain situations when I was allowed to rush the passer. I wanted to rush the passer more. I also remember wanting to fit in with the established group of linebackers on that team. So I resigned myself to the fact that if they wanted me to play the pass, I would play the pass.
I wanted to be in great shape my first season so I could play to the best of my ability to help the team win. I was driven to be the best. I wanted to be everything I could possibly be and even make All-Pro.
Ray Perkins was our coach in 1981. He told me I got too aggressive at times and that I needed to get the big picture before I committed myself one way or the other. During the exhibition season, I made mistakes I knew I shouldn't have made — such as my pass drops.
Dropping back into the areas I needed to get to for pass coverage wasn't the problem. Reading the keys took some time getting used to, though, like when the Steelers got the best of me on a flea flicker in our final preseason game. Still, I felt pretty good about my progress by the time the regular season started. I felt like I was getting better in each game.
The mental approach to the NFL brought another adjustment for me. We'd had a fairly simple defense at North Carolina compared with what we were doing with the Giants. A lot of times those blackboard diagrams and rolling zones were dizzying. I'd take home film and learn as much as I could because I felt like the more I knew, the better I'd play. Physically, I couldn't have been much better at the time. I stood 6'4", 240 pounds and ran a 4.6 in the 40. Players of my size simply weren't supposed to run that damn fast.
As far as the team I'd joined, the Giants had plenty of talent — particularly on defense and the linebackers in our 3–4 defense: Harry Carson, Brian Kelley, Brad Van Pelt, and me. That's a hell of a group to begin my career with.
Unfortunately, the team had not had a winning season since 1972 and they'd only gone 8–6 that season. That reality left Giants fans starving for a winner. As for the players, I saw plenty of talent on our team, but it didn't seem like anybody really knew how to win yet. They'd gone 4–12 in 1980 and were outscored 425–249.
Entering the 1981 season, the Giants' record against the Eagles personified the frustration. Our NFC East rival had defeated us in 11 straight games. So when we opened with the Eagles at the Meadowlands, everybody in our locker room wanted to beat their ass.
But the opener turned out to be more of the same.
Billy Taylor fumbled right before halftime, setting up an Eagles field goal that gave them a 10–3 lead. Ron Jaworski put the dagger into us in the third quarter when he connected on a 55-yard touchdown pass to Rodney Parker. Up until then, no Eagles wide receivers had caught a pass all day. That one put us down 17–3. Combined with a weak ground game that saw us gain only 55 yards in 23 carries, what took place added up to a 24–10 loss, giving the Eagles their 12consecutive win against us.
Even with the offense misfiring, we had some chances to get back in that game. For example, in the second quarter when Jaworski threw behind his receiver at the Eagles' 23 and Van Pelt was right there. But he couldn't hang on to the ball, turning what could have been a pick six into nothing. I remember Jaworski kept arguing with the refs. One time he asked them, "Where's the flag?" That's when I pointed up and said, "The flag's in the stands."
We went on the road to play the Redskins the following week and came away 17–7 winners before returning home to play the Saints. That one probably got a little more hyped up than it should have been because the Saints had George Rogers, the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft that year, and I was No. 2, so the media made it out to be almost like a heavyweight fight: Rogers vs. Taylor. Alas, the game turned out to be more about Phil Simms. He completed 28-of-41 passes for 324 yards and a touchdown, and we beat the Saints 20–7.
Most thought Rogers and I both played well. He ran the ball 20 times for 75 yards and I had three tackles. One of those tackles came on a fourth down in the third quarter when I stopped Rogers.
We seemed to keep gaining confidence throughout the season before finding ourselves at 5–6 when we headed to Philadelphia to play our longtime nemesis. The Eagles stood at 9–2 and were looking strong, so we knew Veterans Stadium would be rocking.
Kelly, Van Pelt and Carson were the only guys on the team who had suffered through all of the 12 consecutive losses to the Eagles, but we still needed to break through that invisible barrier of not being able to beat them.
We were 9 1/2-point underdogs going into that game. Simms couldn't play since he'd separated his shoulder and was out for the season, so Scott Brunner started for us. Our running game helped compensate for the loss of Simms. We had improved a lot after acquiring fullback Rob Carpenter from the Houston Oilers.
Heading into that game, Brunner had looked pretty good. Then again, he'd be facing an Eagles front all day that consisted of Claude Humphrey, Dennis Harrison, Kenny Clarke, and Carl Hairston — a tall order for any quarterback, but even more so for one without a lot of experience.
Nevertheless, we came away with a 20–10 win to move to 6–6 on the season and keep our playoff hopes alive.
The big play of the game came in the fourth quarter when Terry Jackson intercepted one of Jaworski's passes and our speedy cornerback returned it 32 yards for a touchdown and a 10-point lead.
We got a little offense that day, too, running a double tight end formation for much of the game. Carpenter ran for 111 yards and Brunner threw for 181 while completing 10 of the 27 passes he threw. That win did a lot for us and got the monkey — uh, Eagle — off our backs.
After beating Philly, we lost to San Francisco before taking a 10–7 win over the Los Angeles Rams. I received probably the highest praise I'd gotten from Perkins after I made a couple of timely plays in that game. I sacked Pat Haden for loss that pushed back Frank Corral's game-tying field-goal attempt to 49 yards, and he missed. Then I intercepted Haden on the Rams' first play of their next possession. Perkins complimented me after that game by saying, "I've never seen any rookie linebacker have a game like that."
A 20–10 win over the St. Louis Cardinals followed by a 13–10 overtime win over the Cowboys gave us a 9–7 record. But we needed a little help if we were going to make the playoffs and that help came from a local source: the Jets.
New York was playing the Packers on the final day of the season, and it worked out such that we needed the Jets to win in order for us to make the playoffs.
Since we'd played the Cowboys on Saturday, everybody watched the Jets–Packers game together the next day at the press lounge inside Giants Stadium. The Jets came through with a 28–3 win to put us into the playoffs. No Giants team had been to the playoffs since 1963, so we were pretty happy.
And who did we see in the playoffs? Of course it would be the guys in green. The way our season had gone, playing the Eagles first seemed like a natural next step.
Fortunately, our bad karma had been repaired by that point.
Philadelphia had two tight ends blocking me that day. That didn't help them much, though; we beat them 27–21 to move us into the division championship against the 49ers. Later I heard that Jaworski said he fumbled at one point in the game, because he'd looked across the line and saw me grinning at him.
Our magical season finally came to an end in San Francisco when the 49ers beat us 38–24.
We had a great run in 1981. That season helped put the foundation in place for future championship teams.
It was a pretty nice rookie season for me, too.
Bill Parcells is a great coach and one of the best to ever coach anywhere. I'm sure he's regarded that way by most.
Bill was the Giants' defensive coordinator my rookie year and he stayed on my ass every play. I couldn't do anything right. I mean, he was tough.
I had a lot of athletic ability. I could do things that nobody else was doing. For example, I might rush the passer and he'd manage to complete a pass to a receiver. Well, then I'd turn around and catch the guy about 20 yards down the field. Or, one minute I'd be rushing and the next minute I'd be intercepting the ball.
But it was always the wrong thing and Bill would say, "You don't do that. You're not supposed to do that." And he just stayed on my ass. After about four or five days of it, I told Bill, "Listen, I don't care if you cut me or if you trade me. I don't care if you put somebody else in here, but you've got to get off my ass because I don't work like that."
Bill told me, "All right, all right, I'll tell you what. I'm going to let you do it your way. But if you screw it up you're going to do it my way." I never had to do it his way.
After that Bill let me do more of my thing and we became the best of friends. Any time I had a problem, I went to him.
Ray Perkins was the head coach of the Giants in 1979 when he offered Bill the position of defensive coordinator, but Bill left before the season started to take another job in Colorado. I think he was just tired of moving around and he didn't want to put his family through a fooball coach's lifestyle any longer.
He called that year away from football "the most miserable year" of his life, and then returned to coaching in 1980 as the New England Patriots' linebackers coach. I mean, what else was he really going to do? Just work at a job punching a clock nine-to-five? Bill was meant to be a coach.
Perkins hired him back on his Giants staff as the defensive coordinator prior to the 1981 season. That worked out well for me, since he changed the defense from a 4–3 to a 3–4 system. The Giants were rebuilding, and I became a big piece of that process.
Parcells knew how to coach a player to learn the system quickly. I followed his lead and good things happened. He could recognize talent, and he'd let that talent flourish. Though he could be a hard-ass, he knew how to have some fun, too. He could give you the needle.
For example, when the Giants selected me with the second pick of the 1981 NFL Draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Hugh Green out of Pittsburgh with the seventh pick. Both of us had been down linemen in college.
Based on our skill sets, some thought Green would make a better linebacker than me. The thinking was that he was more refined. One week we were getting ready to play the San Francisco 49ers and we were watching tape of them playing the Bucs, and Parcells asked, "Who's that number 53?" Of course it was Green. And he said, "Man, that guy can play! Wow, he intercepted a pass. We haven't seen that around here." He knew he was getting under my skin.
A week or so later, we were getting ready to play the Los Angeles Rams and were watching film of the Rams against the Bucs. So he started again. "Look at that 53! He's a player! Can you believe what he's doing out there?"
Parcells knew I took the bait, and he still kids me about what happened next. I yelled from the back of the room, "Why didn't you draft that son of a bitch if you liked him that much?"
Perkins left the Giants after the 1982 season to take over as the head coach and athletic director at the University of Alabama. That's when Parcells got the opportunity to become the Giants' head coach, which wasn't exactly easy duty since the team had only one winning season in its previous 10.
Excerpted from My Giant Life by Lawrence Taylor, William Wyatt. Copyright © 2016 Lawrence Taylor. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 The Beginning 1
Drafted Second by the Giants 3
Rookie Season 7
Bill Parcells 12
Bill Belichick 19
The 3-4 Defense 24
Trash Talking and Intimidation 28
Ray Perkins 34
Thanksgiving Day Touchdown 37
George Young 40
Dismal 1983 Season 43
Bears Lesson 46
Chapter 2 The Big Games 51
1987 Divisional Playoff 53
1987 NFC Championship Game 56
Super Bowl XXI 59
1991 Divisional Playoff Game 65
1991 NFC Championship 68
Super Bowl XXV 72
Chapter 3 The Men and Moments 77
Harry Carson 79
Brad Van Pelt 83
Brian Kelley 87
Gary Reasons 90
Carl Banks 93
Leonard Marshall 96
George Martin 101
Pepper Johnson 105
Jim Burt 108
Ottis "O.J." Anderson 112
Mark Bavaro 116
Michael Strahan 120
Phil Simms 123
Phil McConkey 127
Rodney Hampton 130
Jumbo Elliott 133
Jeff Hostetler 137
The Suburbanites 140
Joe Morris 142
The NFC East 145
Dan Reeves 149
Giants Stadium 152
Joe Theismann's Leg 156
MVP Season 160
Ray Handley Unrest 164
Final Season 167
No. 56 Retired 172
Clutch Catch: Phil Simms to L.T 175
Wellington Mara 177
Hall of Fame 180
Joe Montana: The Best 187
Speaking of the J-E-T-S 190
Today's NFL 193
Chapter 4 Off the Field 197
Love of Golf 199
Dancing with the Stars 203
Acting Career 206
Chapter 5 Giants After L.T. By William Wyatt 211
Super Bowl XXXV 213
Super Bowl XLII 217
Super Bowl XLVI 220
Tiki Barber 224
Odell Beckham Jr 228
Eli Manning 231
Jim Fassell 235
Tom Coughlin 239
About the Author 245