It is incumbent upon the Lakers to do all they can to keep Kobe Bryant. And it is incumbent upon Shaq O’Neill to realize the importance of having a "co-star" on that team once and for all. If Kobe isn’t in a Lakers uniform next season, Shaq and his teammates won’t be participating in a championship motorcade in downtown L.A. post-season. And Jerry Buss had best get serious about resigning Phil Jackson; great coaches don’t grow on California palm trees.
Story of the Week
Lawrence Taylor was wearing number 98 at the time, not the number 56 he would eventually make famous, but George Young knew he was watching someone special that fall day in 1980. The Giants’ general manager was scouting the North Carolina-Clemson game when Taylor single-handedly willed North Carolina to victory.
"I have never seen a guy dominate a game like that," Young said. "I came back to New York, and someone asked me if I thought Hugh Green of Pittsburgh was the best linebacker in the country. I remember saying that Green was not the best linebacker in the country, but I’m not going to say who is."
Five months later, after the New Orleans Saints drafted running back George Rogers first overall, Young answered the question in the best way he could. He picked Taylor second, initiating a splendid marriage of team and athlete that would change the way NFL linebackers were deployed.
Before Taylor, 4-3 defenses dominated the NFL. The four defensive linemen were backed by three linebackers, with the middle linebacker anchoring the entire unit. The best middle linebackers, from Chicago’s Dick Butkus to Green Bay’s Ray Nitschke to Pittsburgh’s Jack Lambert, controlled the action, primarily by stopping the run.
But rules changes allowed offenses more freedom, and by the early 1980’s, more and more teams were using running backs and tight ends in the downfield passing game. Defenses kept pace by switching to the 3-4 (I’ve never been a fan of the 3-4, but I’ve also never been asked to coach an NFL team either), which featured two inside linebackers to handle the run, and two outside men to join coverage and apply pressure to the quarterback. And no one rushed the quarterback like Lawrence Taylor.
The Giants used Taylor almost exclusively as a stand-up defensive end. At first, teams tried to block him with a tight end or running back, but they were forced to use an offensive tackle eventually, at the very least. What made Taylor unique was his unprecedented combination of speed and power; at 6-3, 243, he was swift enough to run around a tackle and strong enough to run through him.
In a 13-year career, Taylor produced 142 sacks, many of them savage, blind-side hits that resulted in fumbles. Only Reggie White had more official sacks when Taylor retired after the 1993 season. (Don’t forget about Deacon Jones in this department; they didn’t keep those stats then, but Deacon was the quintessential sack-man.) Taylor was voted to the Pro Bowl in each of his first 10 seasons, an NFL record, and many believe he is the finest linebacker ever to play the game.
Last Week’s Trivia
The great 3B, Brooks Robinson, is the only major leaguer to have hit into four triple plays.
Trivia Question of the Week
Who is the winningest pitcher in major league baseball history never to have won the Cy Young Award? See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.