Giants Pick LT
Barca, Jerry. Big Blue Wrecking Crew: Smashmouth Football, a Little Bit of Crazy, and the '86 Super Bowl Champion New York Giants.
St. Martin's Press. Kindle Edition.
The Saints had the #1 choice in the 1981 NFL draft,
and the Giants had the second pick.
On the weekend before the draft, staffers in the Giants' personnel depart­ment hit the phones. They dialed prospects to confirm the draft day locations and telephone numbers of the pro hopefuls. When they called Lawrence Tay­lor, he wasn't there. North Carolina's all-American defensive standout was in New Orleans. He was at the Saints' facility.
"Oh, shit. They're definitely going to take him," Jerry Shay, the Giants' chief scout said, recalling the collective reaction at the Meadowlands.
Bum Phillips, the former Houston Oilers head coach, had become the Saints' coach in the off-season. He made it clear he wanted to take George Rogers, the Heisman Trophy-winning running back from South Carolina. In Houston, Phillips had made the play-offs in his final three seasons, including two conference championship game appearances, and he built his success with the Oilers behind the powerful, bruising running of Earl Campbell. With the top collegiate running back available for the Saints, it was obvious Phillips would pick Rogers in an attempt to replicate the model of success the coach had with Campbell in Houston. The Giants' routine call to connect with Taylor cast doubt on that presumption.
"We thought we were going to have to take Rogers, which we would've been okay with, but we really wanted Lawrence. That scared the hell out of us," Shay said.
Once the draft order had been settled and the Giants had completed their scouting, the team figured it would get Rogers or Taylor. At that point, Shay put together highlight reels on each player. "Lawrence Taylor's highlight reel was a whole spool of a 16mm thing, and shoot, we had less than half a reel on George Rogers," Shay said.
Taylor wasn't the most decorated linebacker coming out of college. That was Hugh Green from Pittsburgh. Green finished second to Rogers in the Heis­man balloting, the highest finish ever for a purely defensive player at that point. Green won the Maxwell Award as college football's most outstanding player, the United Press International Player of the Year honors, and the Lombardi Award as the top college lineman.
In his junior season, North Carolina changed how they utilized him. Taylor had been playing as a down lineman. They let him stand up. Rather than read and react to the play, Taylor went on the attack. He started to make plays, and he relished it. He became a force, and NFL scouts noticed.
"That's when his stock started going up," Shay said.

L-R: Lawrence Taylor, Bum Phillips, George Rogers, Hugh Green
Midway through his senior season, opposing offenses constructed their game plans to avoid him. Oklahoma's head coach Barry Switzer called Taylor "God­zilla." Georgia Tech head coach Bill Curry said he "destroyed" the Yellow Jackets' offense.
North Carolina finished Taylor's senior season with an 11–1 record and ranked tenth in the Associated Press poll, the school's highest end-of-season ranking in more than three decades. Taylor was named the Atlantic Coast Con­ference Player of the Year.
Green had received more media attention, but pro football insiders had seen enough of Taylor to put him above the Pittsburgh linebacker.
"Lawrence Taylor was the only guy I knew at that size that could take a three hundred–pound guy and walk him back to the quarterback. Not only could he outrun him, he could outmuscle him, too," Shay said.
On the college level, Taylor played stand-up defensive end. In the pros, this translated to being an outside linebacker. The transition would prove to be more than ideal for the six-foot-three, 237-pounder with an unusual combination of speed and power.
Meanwhile, in the background, the Dallas Cowboys had been trying to work out a trade with the Saints for the number-one pick. Dallas wanted Taylor, and Taylor wanted to play for the Cowboys. Taylor was a fan of outspoken former Cowboys linebacker Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson. Taylor would eventually shift from his collegiate No. 98 to No. 56 in the pros because of Hen­derson, who, a few months before Taylor was drafted, admitted to having a $1,000-a-day cocaine habit.
With Dallas maneuvering for a trade to draft Taylor and the prized pick being at the Saints' facility in the weekend before the draft, the Giants already had two strikes against them. Then came a third.
New York's strongest position unit was the linebackers with Harry Carson, Brian Kelley, and Brad Van Pelt. Why draft another one? Plus, Taylor had retained Mike Trope as his agent. Trope had handled the rookie contracts for Heisman Trophy winners Earl Campbell and Tony Dorsett. Trope believed that high first-round picks should get three-year con­tracts worth $750,000.
Now, Giants players threatened to walk out if Taylor came in and surpassed them in salary before playing a snap of pro ball. "There's no way a rookie de­serves to make more than some of us," one unnamed Giant told the Associated Press. Taylor heard about the comments and told the Giants' front office to back off. "I didn't want people to be mad at me. So I sent the Giants a telegram Monday saying I would rather not be drafted by them." That night, Giants play­ers and coaches on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball called Taylor, assuring him there would be no issues.
Less than twenty-four hours later on April 28, 1981, the NFL draft com­menced. Thirty-two seconds into the event, the New Orleans Saints picked Rogers. Phillips believed Rogers could do more than Taylor simply because you can give the ball to a running back. "He's a great linebacker, but if you put him on one side, they'd just run the other way the whole game. I couldn't get him in a position 30 times a game to make the big play," Phillips said.
Less than a minute after the Rogers pick, the Giants picked Taylor. Making fast picks was a calculated move by Giants general manager George Young. He believed it sent the message to other teams that the Giants knew what they were doing. Plus, if you had the guy you wanted, there wasn't any reason to wait to hear trade offers.
Across the Hudson River, in the draft room at Giants Stadium, Shay said there was a feeling of elation when they grabbed Taylor. But no hooting, hol­lering, and high-fiving. "That kind of stuff isn't allowed."

 

Golden Rankings Home

FOOTBALL SHORT STORIES ARCHIVES - HOURS OF READING PLEASURE

Latest Golden Football Magazine