Spurred by Lawrence Taylor's latest brush with infamy, a couple of you have already mentioned the close encounter of the worst kind I had with the Hall-of-Fame linebacker a few years back.
I wasn't going to bring it up for various reasons. But I think we need a little transparency here as to why my feelings about Taylor are what they are, especially to those too young to remember the incident. So, without further ado, I bring you my version of the worst 30 seconds of my career.
It happened on Sept. 20, 1995 (not 1989, as some outlets have reported), two years after Taylor had retired from the NFL. Dan Reeves had brought him in that Wednesday to offer some extra motivation to his 0-3 troops as they prepared to face the Saints that Sunday. Reeves had run his team through a three-hour outdoor practice that afternoon. It was closing in around 5 p.m. My paper at the time had a 6 p.m. deadline for all morning and afternoon stories. Knowing Taylor's talk was going to be the story, I had yet to write Word One.
I wasn't happy, not just because of the deadline, but because I'd never really gotten along with Taylor in the five seasons I'd covered him, 1989-93. Great player, a privilege to watch. But I never like him as a person, and I never did get past that personal distaste. My bad.
Anyway, it seemed like a million microphones, cameras, and notebooks were clustered on that practice field, all waiting to hear what Taylor had said. As practice ended, Taylor made his way to the exit where, predictably, the media converged on him.
And so my tale begins.
As we tried to surround him, someone asked what Taylor had told the team.
"I got nothing to say to you guys," Taylor said, steaming off in the other direction toward the far exit.
I happened to be standing along the outer fringe. Still left without a word for my story, I went after him. All 5-foot-5, 170 pounds of me.
"C'mon, Lawrence!" I shouted about 30 yards in back of him. "You know you're gonna talk eventually! Get it over with! You're not a player anymore! You don't have to play these games anymore!"
Taylor replied, "That's right! I'm not a player! I don't have to talk to you guys any more!"
I said, "Same bull...t, huh LT?" At which he pointed a finger at me and said, "Watch it, you!"
At this point, we were about 20 yards apart, and I'd had it. My plan was to turn around, exit the other way, and go back to the press room to vent for another half-hour. But something inside me told me I had to get that damned last word in. So as I turned, I waved my hand at him.
"F-u-u-u... you!" I said.
That was my first mistake.
Now, you have to believe me when I tell you I said this in the spirit of constructive criticism. He apparently didn't see it that way because the next thing I know, he's in a linebacker's stance 20 yards away, screaming like a madman.
"You want to F... with me? You want to F... with me?" he said.
Instead of running for the hills as any right-thinking small person might do, I turned and stood there.
That was my second mistake.
In a flash, or seemingly so, we were face to face. Muhammad had come to the molehill. He's still screaming, and I've got my finger pointing right in his face, saying "You're wrong, you're wrong."
And then he grabbed me around the throat, pushed me up and back, and said, "Get away from me, you dilly-silly bitch!" I swear, I always understood the gist of the last two words. But dilly? Geez, Lawrence.
Anyway, a smarter guy would have walked away right there. But smart had gone out the window a long time ago. In fact, I had almost slugged him. I was watching this little spit globule on his lower lip, and I said to myself, "if that comes off and lands on me, I'm swinging." Thankfully, it stayed where it was.
But I digress. Instead of retreating, I stepped back to my former position. Only heaven knows what might have happened then had TV reporter Russ Salzberg, then-Times reporter Mike Freeman, and Bergen Record reporter Vinny DiTrani not stepped in. Salzberg and Freeman pulled me away (good thing for LT) and Vinny stood in front of the still-enraged Taylor. As Vinny urged him to calm down, I M-Fed Taylor all the way back. I heard him whining, "But that's not necessary, Vinny!"
Taylor eventually took Vinny's advice and made for the exit, offering me one last bit of wisdom.
"That's why nobody reads your paper," he said.
"F-you, A-hole, you M-Fing, C-cks-k-r," I opined.
Salzberg got in my face and said, "It's over. It's over." And I immediately realized that I'd screwed up royally. I had become the story, a huge no-no in the days before blogs and the self-involvement of the media. ESPN and all the local stations had cameras there. The story went national. Coast to coast.
The New York Post ran a tale of the tape with me and LT on the back page. My best friend who works in television framed the moment the cameras caught LT's hand around my throat and gave it to me for Christmas. It still sits in my office.
My paper remained true to form. I almost got fired for it. I wrote a column of apology. The Newsmaker's section of Newsweek icked up the last paragraph and positioned the blurb a column over from a picture of Claudia Schiffer, her long blonde hair covering her bare upper body. I like to say that's as close as I've ever been to a naked supermodel.
Taylor apologized. An hour after the incident, I was called to the locker room where, on camera, Taylor presented me with his 1993 All-Madden jacket. "You deserve this because you're the only guy I know who's crazier than me," Taylor said. I shook his hand, apologized for my own actions, and returned the jacket to the Giants. Good thing I did. My managing editor said if I hadn't, he'd have fired me on the spot. He now resides in what we call the "Dead Editor's Pool" now, counting paper clips or something in the chain's national headquarters. Real genius, that guy.
The next day, in USA Today, Madden made me the first writer ever on the All-Madden team. "We have a new criteria," Madden said. "You have to be crazier than LT."
For a few moments, I was the craziest Italian guy you'd ever want to encounter.
You can look it up.