By Jason Keidel
» More Columns
Millennials may not remember, but the 1980s were a fascinating time for sports in New York City, from the back page up to Page Six.
A gaggle of greats splashed across our daily newspapers, back when newspapers still reigned over the Big Apple. Not just good athletes, but transcendent talents and gripping characters, whose names ring down the decades and whose personal woes became equally epic.
Doc Gooden. Darryl Strawberry. Mike Tyson.
And perhaps the biggest of all — even according to the aforementioned stars — was a football player. Perhaps the greatest defensive football player the team, town and sport have ever seen.
Similar in talent and torment, Lawrence Taylor had the Big Apple in his considerable palms for the entire decade, while the Giants morphed from punchlines to perennial contenders. And it’s not a stretch to suggest that he, more than anyone besides Bill Parcells, was the catalyst.
And just like his peers on Gotham’s Mount Rushmore, Taylor had a handle that rivaled any in history — LT. It was as singular as it was identifiable. Taylor was so dominant that a fellow Hall of Famer, LaDanian Tomlinson, assumed the same handle, and still it belongs wholly and solely to Taylor.
But like Doc, Darryl and Iron Mike, Taylor could not confine his wildness to the arena. While he was hurling blockers like rag dolls across the field, his midnight mayhem was embraced as a masculine extension of his athletic appetites. Now, of course, he’s a case study on the tragic effects of the funhouse of fame.
Case in point: Taylor was arrested last week on suspicion of DUI after allegedly crashing his car into a police cruiser and mobile home. You’ll find pictures galore splashed across TMZ and like-minded sites, taken from the scene in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
He was driving a Bentley, of course, a perfect microcosm of his career, his life squarely in the public eye, under the jeweler’s eye of stardom. Taylor played like a Bentley on Sunday and lived like a jalopy on Monday.
When other players — like Derek Jeter, Don Mattingly or Curtis Martin — avoided the trap doors of NYC stardom, Taylor seemed to long for them. While other players went home after the game, Taylor’s night just started. He’s admitted to spending thousands of dollars a day as a player on drugs and women.
Taylor had all the hallmarks of a legend, all the traits to feed our city’s sports mythology, equal parts icon and iconoclast. A great player with a bad streak. A behemoth who heard the whistle to start the game, but never heard the whistle that stopped the games.
LT’s world had no boundaries. And as long as he was winning, we just dismissed his antics as adjuncts of his athletic prowess. And so when the lights left his life, the party never did.
We just assumed that iconic players will simply find something else, as if they are handed some blueprint for life after 35 — give them a studio gig, wrap them in a mustard-colored jacket and parade them around the nation
So, like with Mike, Doc, and Darryl, LT still found the headlines in retirement, but now from the city’s dark corners and back alleys, where the demons congregate.
According to a police report obtained by the New York Daily News, Taylor was a stumbling mess with bloodshot eyes and smelled of cigars and alcohol when he was arrested Friday night.
Other details from the report and the article have haunting implications. Police said Taylor didn’t even know where he was, telling officers he was in Broward County, which is about an hour away. When asked how much he had to drink, Taylor said, “apparently too much.”
Indeed, five hours after the crash, Taylor reportedly failed two Breathalyzers, which, if true, means he was bombed when he lost control of his car.
TMZ noted how this sordid story dovetails into another. The DUI charge reportedly came one day after Taylor’s probation ended as part of a sexual misconduct conviction. Taylor pleaded guilty in 2010 to having sex with a minor, whom he hired as a prostitute.
In other words, had the incident happened two days earlier, LT would be facing additional jail time.
We loved LT during the game, but he seems less and less likable after the game. Taylor needs to give LT an intervention, tell him that the fun doesn’t have to end, but the games are over. Tell LT that the arena is eventually closed for all, even for the legends.
Especially for the legends.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel