Fearsome Giant suddenly so ... small

SUFFERN, N.Y. -- Lawrence Taylor walked through the side courtroom door in handcuffs, his face an unruly mask of pain and fear. Two armed officers in street clothes escorted him to the defendant's table, and one of the most intimidating players in NFL history looked hopelessly small when he slumped in his chair.

Taylor was wearing a black, short-sleeved shirt draped over his blue jeans. A brown belt, wrapped tightly around his waist, was buckled against the small of his back.

From the front row of the courtroom, from a seat almost directly behind the former Giant accused of having sex with a 16-year-old girl, LT didn't even look like a shell of LT.

The linebacker who made a living rushing the passer projected the body language of a man whose pocket had collapsed around him.

Taylor wasn't wearing his conspicuously large and omnipresent ring in his left ear. He wasn't wearing any jewelry, just the cuffs that locked his hands in front of his waist.

For 10 minutes the loneliest man on the face of the earth sat there and waited, sometimes dropping his head and staring at nothing, sometimes swaying back and forth against a chair designed to give. His attorney, Arthur Aidala, put a hand on Taylor's left shoulder and delivered some low-volume comfort and advice.

Taylor waited 10 minutes for the town justice, Arnold P. Etelson, to finally enter the room. LT had no idea Etelson spent those 10 minutes reviewing the defendant's rap sheet, one that included arrests for drugs, fraud and a recent hit-and-run accident that inspired Aidala to offer this dog-ate-my-homework explanation:

His client's tire fell off at the scene and left him unable to stop his car.

This much was clear Thursday: The wheels have come off Taylor's turbulent life like never before. In the past he's admitted to cocaine and drinking binges, joked about skipping scheduled drug tests as a Giant, and conceded he's lived life faster than he ever raced into an opponent's backfield.

"But I've known Lawrence for 20 years and I've never see him this distraught," Taylor's agent, Mark Lepselter, said after LT posted his $75,000 bail, zigged and zagged through a near-riotous horde of cameras and notebooks, slid into the back of a black Tahoe and took off.

Before Taylor sped out of town, the accusations of third-degree rape and patronizing a prostitute trailing his car onto Route 59 and beyond, he had to listen to Etelson talk about the 300 bucks Taylor is alleged to have paid for sex with the 16-year-old runaway identified by the judge as "CF."

Taylor denied having sex with the teenager. So if this case goes the distance and develops into a he-said, she-said event, jurors will have to decide which set of initials to believe:

LT or CF.

Meanwhile, this arraignment produced a full week's worth of courtroom drama. Aidala put on a theatrical performance worthy of his Fifth Avenue address, calling the state's request to set bail at $100,000 "ludicrous" and "ridiculous" and swearing Taylor has been drug free -- "stone-cold sober" -- for 12-plus years.

Look around, Aidala told the judge. "This courtroom is filled with media. Where is Lawrence Taylor going? ... He's not going anywhere."

The lawyer spoke of the "old Lawrence Taylor" as dead and buried, and "the new Lawrence Taylor" as alive and well. It was Aidala's way of saying his client had grown up, and was too responsible a citizen to ever jump bail or have paid sex with an underage girl.

"My client did not have sex with anybody," Aidala would say outside the courtroom. "No, period, amen."

The police maintained otherwise. They did say Taylor never struck or hurt the girl when they allegedly met inside the local Holiday Inn, and they did say there was no evidence of drug use in LT's room, and they did say he was ultracooperative with investigators.

But they also said alcohol was present in the hotel room, and that "ignorance is not an excuse" if Taylor had intercourse with a prostitute he assumed was of consenting age.

So there was the NFL's greatest defensive player of all time, bending over a table to sign some court documents and doing the best he could through the handcuffs.

Taylor was led out of the courtroom by the armed officers at 4:34 p.m., a half-hour after he'd arrived, but was summoned back four minutes later -- free of handcuffs this time -- to hear another warning from the judge about his post-arraignment responsibilities.

LT walked back out through the side door marked "Police Entrance: Authorized Personnel Only," and soon enough made a dramatic appearance at the front of the police station.

The earring was back in place. LT was carrying a small bag over his shoulder, and the cameramen rushed at him as if it were third-and-long.

"I'm not that important," Taylor said.

As LT, Aidala and Lepselter headed for the Tahoe, one reporter barked out, "LT, this is your chance to speak in front of the cameras. Did you have sex with this woman?"

"No," he mumbled in reply.

Over at the Holiday Inn, where the alleged crime unfolded in the small hours of Thursday, one photographer was seen snapping pictures of the hotel. The sign outside the main Holiday Inn entrance read "Welcome Martin Luther King Annual Dinner."

Taylor's representatives said he was in town to play golf and make a corporate appearance. He left "absolutely devastated," Aidala said.

LT's own pocket had collapsed. The biggest Giant swears he's innocent of these charges, and this time around his word had better be as good as his game.

Ian O'Connor is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.