HE'LL BE MISSED
This is an article from the Nov. 16, 1992 issue
On Oct. 18, 1987, a Sunday when most NFL players were on strike, Lawrence Taylor played what I consider to be the best game of his career. It was a raw, miserable day in Buffalo, and he was battling with firemen and construction workers and security guards masquerading as NFL players. His stats that day were Taylor-esque—seven tackles, six pressures, two sacks and one forced fumble. The Giants lost 6-3 to the Bills. But what made this effort special was that Taylor played his guts out with all these hacks around him, trying single-handedly to win a game.
Taylor was like the good guy in a professional wrestling match who's getting beaten up while the referee looks the other way. He was mugged by a double team on every one of his 80 plays. Some guy named Rick Schulte was playing offensive line for Buffalo. He brawled with Taylor six times during the game. Officials flagged the Bills seven times for holding Taylor. Funny thing was, LT loved it, and he played this ridiculous game as if it were the most important game of his life. That's because he played every game like that. "I've never seen an effort like it in all my years of football," says the Giants' director of player personnel, Tom Boisture, remembering that day.
Once, as he slowly got up from atop Taylor after a play, Schulte ground his knee between the bars of Taylor's face mask, almost breaking LT's nose. "But I got him back good for that," Taylor said afterward. "Later in the game, I tore in, ran over him, took my fist and drove it right into his throat. Then I rubbed it in. I said, 'How do you like that, sucker?' That was fun."
When the game was over, Taylor approached Schulte, who braced for another shoving match. LT scowled. "Hey, you cheap bastard," he said. Then he smiled. "Good game."
"Th-th-thanks," Schulte said. "It was an honor to play against you."
On Sunday, following the Raider-Eagle game in Philadelphia, I walked up to running back Keith Byars in the Philadelphia locker room and told him the bad news about Taylor. LT had ruptured his right Achilles tendon against the Packers at Giants Stadium. If Taylor sticks to his previously announced plan to retire after the 1992 season, the man who revolutionized the linebacker position during his 12 years in New York will not play in another NFL game.
Byars has a fractured right hand, and he cringed when I shook it. "I could be on injured reserve right now with this," he said, holding up the hand. "But Lawrence Taylor inspired me with how he always played hurt, and there's no way I'm going on IR. Plus, I wanted to block him in two weeks when we played."
Byars, who was used as the help-blocker on Taylor whenever the Eagles played the Giants, had some classic battles with LT. "I treasure our games," he said. "I'm really going to do this: In 30 or 40 years, I'm going to take out the tapes and show them to my kids and grandkids, to show them I really played against Lawrence Taylor, the greatest."
"What will you tell them?" I asked.
"That he was everything they said he was," said Byars.
STATS OF THE WEEK
•Touchdown Tommy Vardell of the Browns is touchdownless in his first nine games as a pro.
•Cowboy running back Emmitt Smith has outscored the Seahawks this season 72-56.
•The Viking defense hasn't allowed a quarterback to pass for 300 yards or a runner to rush for 100 in a game this season.
A SECOND CHANCE
A year ago the Saints were 9-1 and romping through the NFC West, and they looked as if they might finally make some headway in the playoffs. But then New Orleans dropped four games in a row, barely hung on to win the division and lost to the Falcons in a wild-card playoff. This year the Saints, 7-2 after Sunday's 31-14 win over the Patriots, will have another shot at getting it right.
New Orleans is headed into the killer part of its schedule—a road game against the 49ers this Sunday, followed by three home games in 10 days against the Redskins, the Dolphins and the Falcons—with about the same lineup the team had a year ago. Only three of the Saints' 24 starters arc different: guard Derek Kennard, running back Vaughn Dunbar and corner Reginald Jones.
The defense, ranked third in the league, appears to be up to the challenge, but the offense may not have the firepower needed to take New Orleans the next step—winning a playoff game for the first time in the team's history. Quarterback Bobby Hebert (13 touchdowns, 11 interceptions) threw a horrible interception late in a 16-10 loss to San Francisco on Sept. 27, proving once again that he can't get it done in the clutch. Further, the Saints average only 3.6 yards per rush. With 436 yards on 124 carries, Dunbar has to do better than 3.5 yards a carry to justify his first-round selection.
"I'm not into that next-step stuff," says New Orleans coach Jim Mora. "I'm into the next game. That's it. What the hell is the next step? If you're good enough to win, you win, and you take the next step."
Three of the disaffected World League franchises—Sacramento, Montreal and San Antonio—were negotiating through the weekend with the Canadian Football League's expansion committee in hopes of being included in the CFL's plans to expand in 1993. This scene developed after NFL owners, burdened by a number of other financial drains, decided last September to suspend play in the developmental league for next year.
After touring the three World League cities as well as Portland, Ore., last week, CFL commissioner Larry Smith was enthused about expansion opportunities for his eight-team league in those cities. Such a marriage of World League cities and the suddenly ambitious CFL, which appeared closer to dissolving than to expanding as recently as two years ago, wouldn't necessarily disappoint the NFL. Many owners wish the World League, which cost the NFL about $42 million in start-up costs and bailouts in its two seasons, would dry up and blow away.
Giant president Wellington Mara on Taylor's pending retirement: "I haven't accepted his resignation yet." In truth, though, LT would probably come back from his devastating injury only if he could play again for Bill Parcells.... Bronco coach Dan Reeves handed quarterback John Elway the play-calling chores again on Sunday, and the Broncos responded with a season-high 375 total yards in their 27-16 defeat of the Jets. "He's got a great feel for calling plays," Reeves said.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Chargers at Browns, Sunday. San Diego's four-game winning streak ended in Kansas City on Sunday, but if the young, 4-5 Chargers are anywhere near as good as they have looked recently, they ought to be in the AFC wild-card race down the stretch. Of the teams left on San Diego's schedule, only the 5-4 Browns have a winning record. Cumulatively, the Chargers' remaining opponents are 22-41. "I love that schedule," says San Diego tackle Harry Swayne. "I'm not going to lie to you; I love it."
THE END ZONE
There is a Robo OB II. Mikhail Marinovich, the four-year-old stepbrother of Raider quarterback Todd Marinovich, is on the same career path as Todd. Their father, Marv, dreamed of having a son play quarterback in the NFL, so he had Todd exercising, eating only healthy food and throwing often from the time he was a toddler. Now Marv appears to be at it again, with little Mikhail. "I see [Mikhail] doing the same things I did," says Todd. "It's amazing to see how strong this kid is because he's eating healthy and because he's been doing push-ups. At three, he could rip off 20 or so."
Packer wide receiver Sterling Sharpe is thrilled with the offense installed by new coach Mike Holmgren. "No reason he wouldn't be excited," says Holmgren, the former 49er offensive coordinator. "He knows he's going to get balls in this offense the way Jerry Rice got them in San Francisco." In a 27-7 loss to the Giants on Sunday, Sharpe, 27, caught 11 passes to vault into the league lead with 61 receptions after nine games. He's now on pace to break Art Monk's single-season record of 106 catches.
Here arc the five 100-catch seasons in NFL history, and where Sharpe stands by comparison with seven games to play this year.
Sharpe is also only 17 catches shy of the mark for the most receptions in the first five years of an NFL career. Roger Craig, the former San Francisco running back who's now with the Vikings, holds the record with 358 grabs.
One more Sharpe stat: Sterling and his younger brother, Bronco tight end Shannon Sharpe, arc the first pair of brothers ever to have 100-yard receiving games on the same day. On Oct. 4 Sterling made nine catches for 108 yards and Shannon made nine for 117. The only other brother tandem to have 100-yard receiving games did it on different days: Jimmy Thomas of the 49ers, in 1969, and Earl Thomas, of the Cardinals, in 1974.
Avg. Per Game
1. Art Monk, Redskins
2. Charley Hennigan, Oilers
3. Lionel Taylor, Broncos
Jerry Rice, 49ers
Haywood Jeffires, Oilers
Sterling Sharpe, Packers
1. Roger Craig, 49ers
2. Al Toon, Jets
3. Lionel Taylor, Bears/Broncos
4. Jerry Rice, 49ers
5. Kellen Winslow, Chargers
6. Charley Hennigan, Oilers
Sterling Sharpe, Packers