Thursday, May 6, 2010

Lawrence And Me

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.

Alone.

"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.

EP

41 comments:

  1. You got what you deserved. No man is going to allow you to disrespect them like that. Basically your mouth wrote a check your ass wasn't willing to cash.....Plan and simple.

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  2. wow, what a story! you are crazy, i would never have mouthed off to LT ...

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  3. Dilly Silly Bitch? I love it!! That LT, he's a true vocabularian!!!

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  4. 6'3", 241 lbs vs. 5'5", 170. You do realize that would have ended very, very badly for you had blows been exchanged, right? Reminds me of the tourists that think trying to pet the wild buffalo in Yellowstone would make a great Xmas card picture.

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  5. Jason from TexasMay 06, 2010 10:23 PM

    Ernie, don't let these other guys tell you that crap. There is respect to be found in a man that doesn't cower in face of adversity and fear. Whether you walked or rolled away on a stretcher, had it come to blows (no pun intended), i admire your willingness to not let his status or stature intimidate you. I love what he did in a Giants uniform, but i question everything he has done outside of one. Keep writing, i enjoy it.

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  6. great story. i think today's giants could use some of that fire you had then.

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  7. Here, here Jason. Good for you Ernie. I'm glad to hear you recognize and admit your part in it.

    Chris B.

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  8. he should have whipped you butt ernie

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  9. LTS not so tuff..... Michael strahan could kick his a**

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  10. So you felt entitled and got pissy when you didn't get what you wanted? How does he owe you anything? Because you need a story? Get over it and get over yourself. You got what you deserved in that and you started the confrontation. Call LT a bad guy, but you're a spoiled media guy who was upset because he wasn't doing his job well enough and LT wouldn't make it easier.

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  11. Only in New York can an ex-NFL player get called a Mother Fu**** if he doesn't issue a statement to the media.

    I admire your tenacity but I'm afraid your story doesn't provide enough for your personal disdain of LT to be contagious.

    As far as LT goes: If the worst people in our society were merely self-destructive the world would be a much better place.

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  12. This is a great story. Quite entertaining. Don't listen to the lemmings who say you should have gotten your butt kicked. Those posters are either 12, or they have never spent time in jail for commiting the crime of battery. If they had, they would know that when you strike a person, whether they deserved it or not, the law will hold you accountable. I give Dez Bryant credit for not hitting Jeff Ireland. God knows the dude deserved it, but Dez Bryant held his tongue and his fists in check, and look what happened: Ireland ended up with pie on his face.

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  13. Ernie

    I remember that incident well (minus the incredible detail circa 2010!)...all i can say is that we have met before at training camp and I am glad I never got on your bad side! I always try to keep Dave Klein in between us anyways

    big lol

    I told John Altavilla that Neil Best reminded me of a cross between Woody Allen & Lou Costello

    I think of you now as a cross between Buddy Hackett & Rocky Marciano.

    LT is the greatest LB I have seen on the field since 1970 (apologies to Bobby Bell, Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary, Wilbur Marshall, Ted Hendricks, Brad Van Pelt, Carl Banks, Harry Carson, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, Andy Russell, Derrick Thomas, Chris Hanburger, Chuck Howley, Lee Roy Jordan, Bill Bergey) ....but he is as stupid off the field as they come.

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  14. Way to go Ernie, I love that story, it's even better when you tell it in person!! Hope your doing well, give a shout when you get a chance.

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  15. You seem proud of this. It was disgraceful on your part. Do you not understand that?

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  16. HAAHAHA HAAHAHHA, Ern, facing up LT and surviving.

    Btw, u did nothing wrong and should never have apologized. I never realized u had to write an apology column. Maybe if LT hjad some people around him to tell him the truth he would not be in the trouble he is constantly getting into.

    U ARE THE MAN ERN!

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  17. i'm torn on this; on the one hand i do think you were a bit silly telling LT to f--k off. also, it was a bit out of order. HOWEVER, i do also think that its utterly brilliant that you told LT to fuck off.

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  18. i have to agree with the people inclined to say you should have been whupped, i really doubt that you would have called him names without the protection of the people around to pull him off of you. It even sounds like he was in the right on this one (why should he have to talk to you, you're getting paid to TRY to question him,he's not getting paid by your paper) It's good to that you didn't swing at him. It would've sucked for him to be in jail for manslaughter all these years, though he might not be in the trouble he is today. (5,5'?!! you saw that eddie murphy rocky bit right?)

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  19. But at least it was a dismissive "f-you." Right Ernie?
    -dallasdave!

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  20. Oh yeah, and down here in Texas, if you mouthed off like that to a jerk like LT (say it was TO), you'd be a hero and we'd name a beer after you. All these guys doggin' on you are obviously wussified yanks! Ever thought of moving to football country?
    -DallasDave!

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  21. DallasDave!! (I gave you a second exclamation point because because up here we yanks are real generous):

    Please don't tell us how it's done in Texas. I know no one in Texas is interested in how it's done in New York. Let's just agree to hate the Cowboys and be on our way.
    By the way, "football country" is Louisiana. They have more NFL players than any state. Louisiana is that big state to your right on the map. The Saints come from there. They won the Super Bowl last year too.

    Yee ha.

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  22. Not to impressive Ernie. I would have thought you could have handled that much better than that. I would forget that story and never mention it or your thought processes again

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  23. Boy Ernie you must have had a lot of pent up hate for the guy! I mean to confront a guy as powerful as LT! You got guts. I was still in high school when this happened and wasn't into football then though I was a Giants fan after the 1990 superbowl. Never really knew the full story until.

    I don't know how much of your story is based on true emotions or sarcasm but it's fun tale to read. I'm sure your adrenaline was on overdrive!

    Can't say I blame LT's reaction or yours so I guess I'm not taking any sides here. But it's definitely worth retelling especially since you survived it!

    Gotta give LT some credit though for holding back and not going "kick-ass" on your face!

    Man what a story!

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  24. Well Ernie, I guess the good lord decided it wasn't your time yet. you must still be on this earth for something very special.That being said, you are one crazy MFer!

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  25. You should have been fired. That was entirely unprofessional and an embarrassment to your profession. And that paper carried your ass for years, stop speaking ill of it.

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  26. Eye Witness to the MadnessMay 07, 2010 3:18 PM

    I was there. Yeah, maybe Ernie could have handled it better. But it was real, real hot and the media had been standing on the sidelines for hours ... all because they were expecting to talk to LT. It wasn't that LT didn't talk, it's that he knew they were waiting there for him, he laughed at them from afar, then he blew by them. Basically, he acted like the arrogant ass that he is.

    The rest of the media was MF-ing LT under their breath. Ernie just let it all out.

    But I promise you this: Not a single witness -- including media members, members of the organization, and some players -- thought Ernie was wrong. And a lot of people wanted to say F-You to LT for a long, long time.

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  27. Hey, "Anonymous" (I can play that game, too). The Westchester Journal-News was a horses--t paper run by horse's asses for many, many years. Ernie was one of the few bright spots there. But the editor-mandated stories they tried to pass off as things that readers would be interested in made me cancel my subscription and encourage my friends to do the same.

    Ernie, I know being an independent blogger wasn't your ideal career path, but you're better off. The J-N continues to go way, way down hill. And don't listen to "Anonymous" about the paper carrying your ass. If anything, you dragged that paper from something I wouldn't let my dog poop on to something occasionally worth reading.

    That said, you're one crazy Motherf--er.

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  28. Dallas Dave - Wussified Yanks? Oh, you mean the guys who kick your a** in a war that happened 150 years ago? Still holding on to that? Sad. I always said Lincoln's one mistake was he didn't let Sherman finish the job. Here's the reality; today, years after this event, if LT stood next to you, you would soil yourself. Dallas - third fattest city in the US. Down there in Texas, if you mouthed off to anyone it would be a miracle because your mouths are usually filled with some kind of food no one with an IQ over 12 would think of frying, but you guys do. Bottom line, no matter what LT did, Ernie made himself the story. He knows that's wrong and unprofessional and manned up and admitted it. As he said, he screwed up royally. I worked 8 years for CBS news. We get paid to report the news not make it. Ernie knows that. Is Ernie human? Sure. He's allowed a mistake. And for all your BS Texas bravado (if Texas is filled with so many tough guys, why aren't you guys linig up to enlist to serve your country?), a professional needs to act like a professional, no matter how distasteful the subject. I understand in Texas such things as professionalism, class, and education are frowned upon, but up here where terrorists have actually killed thousands, many of whom were our friends, family, and neighbors, we long ago realized that tough talk is useless. We all saw how your hero from Texas got Bin Laden "dead or alive". We were attacked by murderous sub-humans from Afghanistan, that were trained by Pakistan and funded by Saudi Arabia and the "tough guy" from Texas attacked Iraq. Go name a beer after that and drink up. BTW - if your Governor ever threatens to secede again, please follow through. The national IQ will jump forty points overnight. It's wrong for you guys to get our hopes up like that and then stick around.

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  29. Ernie, when I saw LT's latest run-in with the law I remembered you telling the story of your altercation with LT to my journalism class at LIU. Funny how a day later I happen to come across your blog post rehashing the entire ordeal!

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  30. That's Mr. LT to you!May 07, 2010 5:38 PM

    Ernie, this is an AWESOME blog. I wish I had seen it ages ago. Someone should pay you to do this.

    As for LT, he can go to hell! Picking on sportswriters and 16-year-old girls? I'm proud to say I'm burning my old LT jersey (it doesn't fit anymore anyway).

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  31. Always hated the Journal-News. Now that I know they almost fired you, I hate it even more.

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  32. Fascinating story. I don't like LT and his actions were wrong.

    But, the fact is, it wasn't that you stood your ground, so to speak, it was your language. That language is unnecessary and, quite frankly, utterly and unadulteratedly CLASSLESS.

    I hope you've outgrown such stuff. I mean that kind of language is 9th grade level maturity.

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  33. How strange that you would tell us all what an incredible A-hole you are. I will never ever read another word from you. A man has the right to be left alone when he asks you to leave him alone. He was a retired private individual at the time. You were a harassing, aggressive, intrusive, disprespectful A-hole. And even today you don't recognize that you were the one 100% in the wrong.
    I hope this blog helps all of your readers decide to boycott you and anyone you work for

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  34. Ernie was right!!!!May 08, 2010 8:24 AM

    Wow, another "Anonymous" who totally misses the point. At least Ernie is man enough to put his name to the story. Nice of you to call him names without putting your name to it.

    LT is a thug. Always has been. And as we just read, everyone who was there knew Ernie was right.

    Go Ernie! Go Ernie! Go Ernie! You da man!!!

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  35. Every sportswriter dreams of telling a prima donna jackass superstar athlete to go fuck themselves but nearly every single one of them knows how extremly unprofessional and unethical that would be. Hence, you don't do it.

    I credit Ernie for being bold enough to post something like this but a hot day and a tight deadline doesn't justify that type of behavior just because Taylor (a complete moron by the way) decided he didn't want to talk to the media.

    I know if I ever acted that way, my paper would fire me in a New York Minute (is there such a thing as a New Jersey Minute?) I would also be extremly embarrassed to have to face the editor-in-chief and honestly describe the way I acted too.

    Sportswriters whine when athletes don't show them the proper respect but respect is a two-way street. Ernie didn't show respect or class in this situation and I'm really, really glad he didn't get punched.

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  36. It's tough life being a reporter.

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  37. yea folks, why are you asking Ernie to be above everyone?

    Relax.

    Ernie is not the first, nor last reporter/person, to curse.

    He tells it like is.

    Maybe he is a cross between Edward R Murrow & Buddy Hackett...with a little Rocky Marciano thrown in...

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  38. wait a tick, you procrastinated on your story and the deadline was 1 hour away and then becuase you screwed up you went after LT and called him names and he almost beat you down.....you are one lucky SOB Big Ern. No wonder all you got going for yourself is this blog....

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  39. he should have beaten you senseless.as he said to you that day,he is no longer a player,and if he doesn't want to give an interview or statement,he is not obligated to do so.if you don't like it,go to a current player to get your story.are you that lazy or just an idiot?

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  40. sorry if i am using anonymous but what is with these idiots? Don't like Ern? We all freaken do so bug off and go read something else. btw u rock Ern lol.

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  41. Just another example of the BigE being his true self, mr. big sh## sportwriter who never grew up!

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