On February 4, 1959, Lawrence Julius Taylor, one of the best defensive players in NFL history, is born in Williamsburg, Virginia. Taylor went on to play his entire 13-season professional career with the New York Giants and is credited with redefining the position of outside linebacker and terrorizing a generation of NFL quarterbacks.
Taylor didn’t start playing organized football until his junior year of high school, when a coach recruited him for his size. Taylor attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he was an All-America player known for his intense, hard-hitting style. The New York Giants selected the 6’3” Taylor as the second overall pick in the 1981 NFL Draft on April 12 and that season he went on to be named the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year. He helped the team make it to their first playoff appearance since 1963 and quickly established himself as a star in New York, dazzling football fans with his speed, strength and fearlessness.
In 1986, Taylor recorded 20.5 sacks and was named the NFL’s MVP, the first defensive player to receive the honor since Alan Page of the Minnesota Vikings in 1971. He also led the Giants to a Super Bowl victory, the team’s first championship since 1956. The Giants would claim another Super Bowl championship in 1990. Before retiring after the 1993 season, “L.T.,” as he was known, was named to the All-Pro team 10 times and recorded 132.5 sacks (which doesn’t include his 9.5 sacks in 1981, as the NFL didn’t make sacks an official stat until 1982) 1,088 tackles, 11 fumble recoveries and nine interceptions.
Off the football field, Taylor led a fast-lane lifestyle and struggled with substance-abuse issues. In 1987, he tested positive for cocaine use and the following year, after failing a second drug test, received a 30-day suspension from football. In his 2003 autobiography, “L.T.: Over the Edge,” he admitted to cheating on NFL drug tests by using urine from other players. After retiring from football, the legendary linebacker’s hard-partying ways continued. He did stints in rehab and was arrested several times on drug charges before getting sober.
After hanging up his football helmet, Taylor worked as a TV sports commentator and actor, appearing in such films as Any Given Sunday and The Waterboy. In 1999, he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on the first ballot.