Do I even have to say it? Lawrence Taylor, of course. The real LT.
The best outside linebacker in NFL history, and arguably the best defensive player of all time. Forget all the numbers, awards and other accolades. Taylor was the rarest of professional athletes -- a player with never before seen skills who changed the way football was played, both defensively and offensively.
Here is part of a 2007 retrospective on Taylor's career from ESPN.
Taylor's motto seemed to be live fast, perhaps die young, and leave a trail of battered quarterbacks in your wake. He was technically listed as an outside linebacker, but he was more like a force of nature. After being unleashed on the NFL in 1981, Taylor's unparalleled will and wildness spurred the New York Giants to two Super Bowl titles.
In 1986 he recorded a career-high 20 1/2 sacks and was the league's MVP, becoming the first defensive player to win the award since Minnesota's Alan Page in 1971. Taylor didn't just play the game, he revolutionized it. The greatest linebackers had always played the middle. Guys like Ray Nitschke and Dick Butkus, who patrolled the trenches like Dobermans.
Taylor created the outside linebacker position in his own image. He was 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds of athletic fury, a Butkus with wheels. Fast enough to cover receivers, strong enough to bully offensive linemen, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. And heaven help any quarterback who got in his way.
With his 142 sacks, L.T. ranks among the all-time leaders.
"Lawrence Taylor, defensively, has had as big an impact as any player I've ever seen," former Raiders coach John Madden said. "He changed the way defense is played, the way pass-rushing is played, the way linebackers play and the way offenses block linebackers."
Taylor played and lived on the edge. For all his physical gifts, his greatest strength may have been his mind. Taylor was an adrenaline junkie who willed himself to do things mere mortals would not consider.
"What makes L.T. so great, what makes him so aggressive, is his total disregard for his body," said Bill Belichick, the Giants' defensive coordinator during Taylor's prime.
From Lew Freedman's 'New York Giants: The Complete Illustrated History,' here is a quote from San Francisco's star safety Ronnie Lott, himself one of the best defensive players of that era.
"I don't think people realize the destructiveness he brought to the game. I'd never seen that kind of nastiness, all out, 100 percent, for four quarters. He was gonna come after you, and he was gonna punish you."
We know that LT brought that same destructiveness to his personal life -- and is still bringing it. Today, though, let's just discuss what he did on the football field.
What are some your favorite on-field Taylor moments? Here are some of mine. I'm sure there are many, many others that should also be mentioned.
- Taylor's hit on, and subsequent trash-talking of, New York Jets quarterback Ken O'Brien during a pre-season game. Every time I watch the often-played highlight I expect to see O'Brien pee his pants.
- In what I believe was a Monday night game, Taylor chasing down and hurtling through the air to tackle scrambling Philadelphia quarterback Randall Cunningham just short of a critical first down.
- Taylor's 97-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Detroit Lions in his second NFL season.
- Taylor flying across the field and chasing down unsuspecting running backs from behind when teams tried to sweep away from him. Other than mashing quarterbacks into the ground, that was LT's signature play.
- Taylor using that forearm smash to separate helpless quarterbacks from the football.
LT By The Numbers
-- 1999: Inducted Into the Pro Football Hall of Fame
-- 10: Pro Bowls
8: Number of times named All-Pro
142: Career quarterback sacks
20.5: LT's single-season career high in sacks, achieved in 1986
7: Number of consecutive seasons with at least 10 sacks
4: Number of times named Defensive Player of the Year
2: Super Bowls won, and interceptions returned for touchdowns
1: NFL MVP (1986)
Here is an LT highlight reel for your enjoyment.