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Hall of Fame induction spurs Taylor to battle back to top

The Associated Press

CANTON – Lawrence Taylor seemed to be giving himself a pep talk about turning around his troubled life right there on the stage during his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction.

Monday, August 09, 1999

CANTON – Lawrence Taylor seemed to be giving himself a pep talk about turning around his troubled life right there on the stage during his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction.

”Anyone can quit,” said Taylor, who despite drug, money and family problems became one of the greatest defensive players in history. ”A Hall of Famer doesn’t quit. A Hall of Famer realizes the crime is not being knocked down. The crime is not getting up again.”

Taylor, one of just two defensive players ever to be league MVP and the leader of the New York Giants teams that won Super Bowls in 1987 and 1991, was one of five ex-players inducted Saturday.

The others were Eric Dickerson, the NFL’s third leading career rusher; Tom Mack, a guard who played 13 years for the Los Angeles Rams; Ozzie Newsome, a tight end for the Cleveland Browns; and Billy Shaw, a guard for the Buffalo Bills from 1961-69 who became the first Hall of Famer to spend his entire career in the old American Football League.

But Taylor, whose election last January was preceded by several weeks of controversy because of his drug arrests and suspensions, was clearly the star of the show.

Cheered on by a large contingent of New York fans chanting ”LT, LT,” he seemed ready to make peace with his troubled past.

And it started with the introduction by his 17-year old son, Lawrence Taylor Jr. – called T.J. by friends and family.

”If I could pick anyone to be my father, I’d pick Lawrence Taylor,” T.J. said. That prompted his Dad to say:

”I had a bet with Bill Parcells that I wouldn’t cry. I almost lost the bet there.”

Almost as emotional was the induction of Newsome, the leading receiver among tight ends. He played his entire career with the Cleveland Browns, but as the team’s personnel director moved to Baltimore when owner Art Modell moved the franchise there.

Modell was booed when his image appeared on the big screen showing highlights.

But Newsome was roundly cheered by the ”Dawg Pound,” the famous Cleveland fan section that will be revived when the new expansion Browns begin play this season. And he won them over completely when he concluded his induction speech by saying:

”There is a cause for celebration. Today we have that cause because in 1999 there is football back on the lakefront. There’s a song that’s been playing in my head for the past three of four hours. It’s ‘Here we go again.’ ”

As usual, there was some levity.

After Shaw thanked his children, coaches, employers and just about everyone but his dog, it was Dickerson’s turn.

”The last few days we talked about who was going to forget someone,” Dickerson said, looking toward where Shaw’s wife was sitting.

”Pat Shaw would you please stand up.” She did, to applause and laughter.

Taylor was the last of the five to be inducted. On hand were his parents, his ex-wife and his three children to whom he said: ”Thank you for putting up with me for all those years.”

He also got emotional when he saw Harry Carson, his former teammate who had openly criticized Taylor’s off-field conduct.

”That’s class,” Taylor said to Carson. ”I love you, man.”

Taylor said the three people who most influenced his career with the Giants from 1981-93 were Parcells, who coached him; George Young, the general manager then, and Wellington Mara, the owner.

He paid special tribute to Mara, who tried to help Taylor with his drug problems, saying:

”He probably cared more about me as a person than he really should have.”

But the final, most touching tribute was from Taylor’s own son.

”You people,” T.J. said, pointing to bleachers full of fans wearing Giants’ number ”56” shirts, ”love him for being LT. I love him not for being LT, but for being Lawrence Taylor, my father.”