(CBSNY) — Few players legitimately dominate the NFL in a given season. Fewer do it over the course of a career. And fewer still dominate to such an extreme that they change the way the game of football is played going forward. New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor remains one of only a handful of players in that last category.
His rise can be seen as a watershed moment in the NFL’s evolution, when teams had to start accounting for a dynamic pass-rusher on every play, week in and week out. In an age when linebackers tended to drop back in coverage, except for the occasional blitz, he attacked the quarterback.
NFL Today and Inside The NFL analyst Phil Simms was a long-time teammate of Taylor. Simms played quarterback for the Giants from 1979 to 1993, and Taylor played linebacker for the Giants from 1981 to 1993. And while the two never lined up across from each other during an actual NFL game, they certainly saw a lot of each other in practice and from the sidelines.
“Lawrence [Taylor] changed the game because the way offensive lines used to block outside linebackers like Lawrence Taylor… everybody did the same thing,” said Simms. “When he came to the game, they had to change it, because the offensive linemen were not fast enough to get out to block him before he got to the quarterback. So everybody had to change what they were doing. Everybody in the league, because of Lawrence Taylor. There’s only about five or six people who affected pro football in a unique way, and he’s one of those guys.”
The list of achievements Taylor compiled over the course of his career is too long to recount here. But the highlights include two Super Bowl championships and 10 Pro Bowls. He finished his career with 132.5 total sacks, which puts him 14th on the career sacks list. Because the NFL didn’t start officially counting stats until 1982, that total excludes 9.5 sacks from his rookie season. Including those sacks would push Taylor up into the top 10, a half sack ahead of Giants great Michael Strahan. He was recently named a member of the NFL’s 100th anniversary All-Time Team, honoring the best players so far.
Beyond the stats and accolades, Taylor changed the way defense was played in the NFL and how offenses reacted. Teams had to create new schemes just to block him, given his speed, power and explosiveness. San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh formulated a game plan to account for him, assigning an offensive tackle to pick him up. (Before Taylor, running backs and tight ends typically picked up blitzing linebackers.) Taylor’s dominance gave rise to the edge-rusher and the aggressive form of linebacker play we see today. It also, as a result, dramatically increased the importance of the left offensive tackle, typically charged with protecting a right-handed quarterback’s blindside on pass plays.
You can catch Phil Simms along with Ray Lewis, Brandon Marshall, Michael Irvin, and host James Brown on Inside The NFL every Tuesday night at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Showtime.