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Taylor Gives the NFL Another Big Headache

By now, we know the drill.

Television network, seeking better prime-time ratings, airs program featuring tales of a star pro linebacker who had a $1,000-a-day cocaine-and-prostitute habit, smoked crack on game days, beat league drug tests by borrowing clean urine from teammates and frequently sent call girls to the hotel rooms of opposing running backs to exhaust them the night before a game.

NFL responds by denouncing the program.

Except, this wasn’t a new episode of “Playmakers.”

This was a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame discussing his career with Mike Wallace.

This was Lawrence Taylor on CBS’ “60 Minutes” on Sunday night, plugging his new tell-all book, in which Taylor reveals that during his days as an all-pro linebacker with the New York Giants, he went “through an ounce [of cocaine] a day. And at times I’d be standing in the huddle, and instead of thinking what defense we were playing I’d be thinking about smoking crack after the game.”

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The excerpt prompted raised eyebrows from Wallace and this boast from Taylor: “Well, like, you got to understand, though: It didn’t affect my play.”

Taylor also told Wallace that he and defensive teammates competed for bounties awarded to anyone who knocked an opponent out of the game.

“That’s just part of being the rough and tough football player,” Taylor said. “You get no pay for doing a cheap shot, but if I hit you straight up -- we’re going to get paid for that. That’s part of life. It may be $500. It may be $1,000. That’s big money back then.”

The Taylor segment lasted 12 minutes. From the NFL’s perspective, they were a dozen minutes from hell.

Earlier in the day, Giant fans had watched their team lose its fifth consecutive home game and drop to 4-8. Looking on the bright side, Giant fans assured themselves that things couldn’t get worse.

Until they gathered in front of the TV a few hours later and learned that one of the most celebrated players in Giant history:

* Routinely hired “escorts” to visit opposing running backs on the eves of Giant games to keep the players up all night and, as they say, weaken their legs. Taylor: “They did a pretty good job.”

* Smoked crack the day the Giants retired his uniform number.

* Borrowed urine from Giant teammates to fool NFL drug testers.

* Often was late for practice, prompting Wallace to ask whether the Giants had granted Taylor “special treatment” because of his all-pro status. Taylor: “What do you mean, ‘special treatment’? Flexibility, I like to call it.... You got to be flexible with me.”

Besides “60 Minutes,” CBS televises NFL games on Sunday. The Taylor interview presented something of a quandary for the cast of “The NFL Today,” CBS’ studio pregame show. Do they promote Taylor’s outrageousness on behalf of the network that cuts their paychecks and needs the ratings? Or do they denounce Taylor on behalf of the league that once cut CBS out of the NFL broadcasting pie and could do so again when the current TV contract expires after the 2005 season?

Boomer Esiason has a past as a widely known, well-paid NFL quarterback. He would like to have a future as a widely known, well-paid NFL commentator. On this issue, Esiason’s allegiance was understood.

“This is not the NFL that I played in,” he said on the air.

Esiason called Taylor’s revelations “an affront” and fretted about having to answer questions from his 12-year-old son about crack cocaine.

Deion Sanders and Dan Marino were sitting on the same panel, listening to Esiason. Sanders sounded incredulous as he asked Esiason, “Your 12-year-old doesn’t know what crack cocaine is? He doesn’t watch TV?”

Sanders said he was “sorry I sit on the podium with a couple of guys who have been naive and don’t understand.... Don’t tell me you don’t know what goes on in the NFL. Guys get high and do everything under the sun.

“Twenty-year-old or 30-year-old guys with millions of dollars -- that equals destruction. So you can’t sit up here and tell me that you were immune to that stuff, that your kid has never heard of drugs or marijuana or crack cocaine.”

Which logo to serve -- the CBS eye or the NFL shield? It was a tough call. Marino, who didn’t like being called naive, decisively proved he wasn’t, shrewdly finding a way to denounce Taylor’s comments while plugging “60 Minutes” in the same breath.

“If you have a kid or a young guy,” Marino said, “tell them to watch the piece because that’s not what you want to be. You do not want to be in the situation here when [Taylor’s] life was totally screwed-up.”

And one more thing, Marino wanted to add: “I’m not naive.”

Neither is ESPN, which has been fighting a losing public-relations battle on behalf of “Playmakers,” the noxious TV drama the NFL hates but ESPN rather likes because the show drew decent ratings in its first season.

ESPN would like to keep “Playmakers” on the air. It would also like to continue televising Sunday night NFL games after 2005. What to do? What to do?

ESPN decided to fire another PR salvo this week by printing excerpts of Taylor’s book, “LT: Over The Edge,” in the Dec. 8 edition of its magazine.

The not-so-subtle message:

Dear Paul Tagliabue: If you think “Playmakers” is bad, just wait till you read this stuff about one of the most honored linebackers to ever play in your league.

Taylor, by the way, insisted on “60 Minutes” that he had been drug-free for more than five years and claimed the old LT “left a long time ago. He’s left the building.”

That’s an important point to make. Taylor has a book to sell, but he’d also like to protect his future in football, should the need develop. He’s not the only one trying to push two agendas at once.


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