NEW YORK – Thanks to Lawrence Taylor, such phrases as the blind side and strip-sacks became part of football’s vernacular. Offensive coordinators built game plans around slowing him down. Rarely did those tactics work.
He was one of the greatest players in NFL history – arguably the best defender the sport has seen – and became a first-ballot member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1999.
The only point of contention at the time: his off-field behavior.
While Taylor’s arrest Thursday for third-degree rape and patronizing a prostitute stands as the most shocking of his run-ins with the law, it is only the latest. The list of charges he’s faced, from drug cases to tax evasion, dates back more than two decades to his playing career and includes several recent entries.
Taylor has been cited three times in Florida over the last six months alone for infractions on the road.
Online records show he was accused of going 95 mph in a 70 mph zone in Miami-Dade County on Feb. 25, a case that’s scheduled for trial in Miami on Friday. He also was charged Feb. 3 with unknowingly driving with a suspended license, and in November for leaving the scene of an accident and careless driving.
In February 2009, he was cited for possessing an open container of an alcoholic beverage by the Florida Highway Patrol. That case was dismissed.
Back when he was storming around the outside of the offensive line and terrorizing quarterbacks, Taylor’s lifestyle already was an issue.
In 1988, he tested positive for cocaine and was suspended for 30 days by the NFL. Even before then, there were whispers throughout the league that Taylor had a drug problem, and that Giants coach Bill Parcells weeded out any such players – except for LT – after the 1983 season.
Taylor did not shy away from discussing his wild times. Two autobiographies were published and he told CBS’ “60 Minutes” in a 2004 interview that he often called six prostitutes a day, would spend $1,000 on escort services, and once showed up at a Giants team meeting with handcuffs he brought from a night spent with several women.
Less than a year after the cocaine test, Taylor was arrested for DUI when he was found sleeping behind the wheel of his car, which was on the shoulder of a parkway. He was acquitted based greatly on testimony from two doctors who said he suffered from food poisoning.
Taylor also was charged with criminal property damage in 1991 for allegedly damaging a taxi in Honolulu. Five years later, he was cited for leaving the scene of an accident, which came just two weeks after being arrested for buying crack cocaine from an undercover officer in South Carolina. Two years after that, Taylor was charged with the same crime in Florida.
Twice in 1995, he entered drug rehab. He has been arrested for failure to pay child support and for tax evasion, and also has filed for bankruptcy.
“Drugs have kept me from being the Christian I want to be,” Taylor once said. “It’s something you’ve got to fight. It’s been a lifetime battle and you’ve got to give yourself a life to do it.”
LT often has said he’s used the golf course as his sanctuary, a place where he can escape his problems and find solutions. He often played golf on a course a few miles from the hotel where the alleged rape occurred in the latest case.
Taylor’s troubles occasionally are mentioned in the same breath with O.J. Simpson, whose presence in the Hall of Fame is considered an embarrassment by some. Should Taylor be proven guilty on the rape charge, he almost certainly will be lumped together with Simpson in any movement to throw them out of the Canton, Ohio, shrine.
The off-field issues certainly were raised 11 years ago when Taylor became eligible for the Hall, and several voters said they wouldn’t even consider him. But he also had his supporters, including then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
“The Hall is about performance on the field,” Tagliabue said. “Lawrence was one of the greatest players ever. I think the public understands that by making a judgment on what he did on the field, you’re not judging what he did off it.”
When voting was over and Taylor won election to the Hall, he took a moment in an interview with Fox Sports to express his resentment at the journalists who did the voting. “You’ve got those guys, and they want to sit there and put me on some moral trip,” he said. “They’ll hold me to a standard higher than they’ll hold themselves.”