Lawrence Taylor was sitting there with his wife, Lynette, in a VIP suite at Radio City Music Hall two weeks back. He was looking like a happily married man and sounding like a linebacker still head over cleats for the love of his professional life.
Football. It's only a game he played like no man ever did.
"I don't watch it anymore," Taylor told me at the NFL draft. "I'd rather see two chickens sh-- in the woods than watch a football game."
I didn't believe him for a second, and soon enough LT was confirming my gut instinct. Suddenly he was talking about the Giants' first-round pick, and his hope that his old team would find a linebacker who pancaked quarterbacks the way Taylor did. As if that college prospect existed.
Taylor's eyes widened as he moved to the edge of his seat, his pulse quickening with every game-day thought, and his wife laughed easily as her 51-year-old husband, the indomitable LT, appeared ready to blitz Joe Theismann from the blind side.
Lynette rolled her eyes and counted with her fingers as her husband rattled off his draft night observations. On the fifth floor at Radio City, beautiful wife by his side, talking football as excitedly as any fan wearing No. 56 in the draft crowd below, Taylor looked a million miles away from a place where the biggest Giant could take the greatest fall of all.
Taylor was arrested Thursday in Rockland County by police investigating an accusation that he raped a 16-year-old girl.
LT has known trouble for most of his adult life, much of it revolving around cocaine.
Taylor's never known trouble half as serious as this.
He's said he's been clean and sober for 12 years. He said he's quieted the legion of demons that consumed parts of his epic Hall of Fame career.
But when the news broke Thursday about the alleged statutory rape, about the arrest of Taylor in a Rockland hotel, LT wasn't fighting to stay on a football field.
He was fighting for his freedom and the remnants of his good name.
The devastating reports summoned the scene of Taylor and his wife at the NFL draft, sitting together in a room adjacent to one graced by Jerry Rice, Drew Brees and Jim Brown. Wearing that oversized ring in his left ear, LT's presence trumped even Brown's.
It was an important night for him. To celebrate its 75th draft, the league announced its 10 most valuable picks of all time, as chosen by 45 million voters on NFL.com. Taylor was the only one of those 10 who made his living on the defensive side of the ball.
"Really?" he asked. "The only one?"
Yes, the one and only was the only one.
Taylor had been on something of a personal roll. He was staying busy playing golf, cutting business deals and appearing on "Dancing With The Stars." His only recent trouble? LT was arrested for leaving the scene of a car accident.
No, his bad days didn't seem so bad anymore, and Taylor was following the NFL a little more than he'd admit. In a phone interview before Super Bowl XLII, Taylor declared that the 18-0 Patriots "could be had. ... This is not any gimme when you're talking about the Giants."
"[Tom] Brady in his prime, me in my prime. ... Yeah, I've thought about what it would've been like to go up against him," Taylor said that day. "But if you live long enough, you forget about all those comparisons. I'm just glad I did what I did in my era."
Taylor dramatically altered the game in his era, and he became the most beloved Giant because of it. Fans were eager to overlook LT's personal flaws, just as eager as Giants owner Wellington Mara, coach Bill Parcells and defensive coordinator Bill Belichick.
Taylor maintained he routinely blew off scheduled drug tests in his playing days, a claim confirmed by Giants trainer Ronnie Barnes. But now Taylor has to answer to a much different system, a much different standard of law.
No football coach, executive or commissioner will decide LT's fate here. He's being accused of a sex crime, and Lawrence Taylor needs to hold on to his presumption of innocence as if it were an opposing quarterback.