Do you think Lawrence Taylor cares who bought his Super Bowl ring?
A weekly column about what the Giants are doing when they're not playing football.
Lawrence Taylor’s Super Bowl XXV ring fetched $230,000, likely from, of all people, Charlie Sheen. That was well above the originally estimated $75,000 to $100,000, which speaks to the hold on the imagination of football fans that L.T. still exerts.
Despite all the mugshots and perp-walks though the years, and even the lesser self-imposed humiliations like that Nutrisystem commercial, L.T.’s legend is still intact, safely preserved in the ‘80s highlight videos celebrating his greatness, in which football talking heads proclaimed we were watching a player who had changed the way the game is played.
That’s one way to appreciate football: as the subject of gauzy myths about Great Historical Men, usually set to swelling orchestral scores.
But that’s for the fans. For the players it’s more about an elemental challenge: Can you kick the ass of the guy across from you, again and again? It’s likely that L.T. relished this challenge and was more successful at it than anyone who has ever played the sport. The Gridiron Great part, the pompous mythologizing part, he could take or leave.
I’ve never met or spoken with Lawrence Taylor, but I’ve spoken at length to many of his former teammates, and what comes across is that L.T. is a man without much pretense or artifice. “He was a regular guy,” is the recurring refrain.
That isn’t to say he was humble, but just that he didn’t use the fact that he was by far the best player on the team to hold himself aloof from his teammates.
He obviously had tons of problems, but he was a friendly, fun-loving guy. Of course he was cocky and goofily self-aggrandizing—that “L.T.” earring, and that Superman cape—but these were more the playful trappings of an ultimate alpha male than of someone who takes himself too seriously. He was more a legend in other people’s minds than his own.
If anything, that was L.T.’s problem: He was too accessible, and too egalitarian in the company he kept. L.T. didn’t care who he partied with, so long as the party was still going.
As he told Frank Litsky of the New York Times on the eve of the 1986 playoffs, “I live life wild. … I hang with the bums. I hang with the regular people.”
This explains why he spent most of his playing career closing down roadside bars in New Jersey and in much seedier places than that, and why, in retirement, he’s so susceptible to getting caught in situations that play to people’s perverse enjoyment of seeing mythic figures show their human flaws.
All of this is to say that it’s not so surprising that L.T. wasn’t so emotionally attached to that ring. I have no idea if that story about him having given it to his son is true, or if he desperately needed that money. What I do know is that whether he was playing football or getting high, L.T. lived in the moment, with little regard for the future or past. Given this, that Super Bowl victory was more about a challenge met and conquered than some sentimental keepsake.
AFTER A FEW MONTHS OF MAGICAL CHAMPIONSHIP AFTERGLOW, of highlight montages and ring unveilings and Sports Illustrated commemorative issues, and with a trip to the White House in the near future, Giants fans were knocked back to Earth yesterday with reports that Hakeem Nicks broke his foot in practice.
His broken fifth metatarsal in his right foot has an expected recovery period of 12 weeks, which would sideline him through the middle of August. But that’s just a ballpark timetable; the reality is that Nicks’s return for opening night on September 5 is in jeopardy.
There’s no way around the fact that this is bad news, but if there’s anyone who can afford to miss training camp, it’s probably Nicks. He’s been on the team for three years, so his chemistry with Eli Manning is not in question. Of bigger concern than his getting back by opening day is making sure this injury doesn’t hamper him during the season. The sensible move is for him to take as much time as he needs to recover. Ask any Giant fan if they’d be okay with Nicks missing even the first two games if it means he’ll be healthy going forward, and they’ll take that deal right now.
AN INTERESTING STAT FROM FOOTBALL OUTSIDERS: the defensive “defeat,” for which a defensive player gets credit if he 1) causes a turnover, 2) causes a loss of yardage, or 3) stops a conversion on third or fourth down.
Jared Allen, the Vikings defensive end who came a half sack short of tying Michael Strahan’s record for most sacks in the season, led the league with 33 defeats. But two Giants showed up in the top 20: Jason Pierre-Paul finished second with 32 defeats, and Mathias Kiwanuka finished 16th with 26 defeats.
Pierre-Paul’s name is no surprise, and Kiwanuka’s really shouldn’t be either. He made lots of big plays last year, punctuating them with a Jessie Armstead-esque right cross to the air. Kiwanuka has never lacked for talent, but has been held back from stardom only to injuries and positional inconsistency. The Giants’ recent decision to sign him to a sizable long-term contract—three years, $16.5 million, $11 million guaranteed—shows that they think his best is still to come.
APPARENTLY, THE GIANTS HAVE EXPRESSED SOME interest in bringing back Deon Grant, who played on 80 percent of the Giants' defensive snaps last year, mostly in a hybrid safety/linebacker position. Grant, 31, a free agent at the moment, told Sirius radio that the Giants, Lions, and Cowboys have reached out to him.
It’s probably smart for the Giants to say “thanks for the memories” here and move on. As indispensable as Grant became last year because of injuries, he wasn’t especially good. Pro Football Focus ranked him average against the run but well below average against the pass. Quarterbacks who threw in his direction did so to a 97.7 rating, well above the league average of 82.5.
Also, the Giants have augmented their defensive backfield and linebacking corps, two units whose thinness last year necessitated Grant’s presence in the first place. Ideally, the Giants will have either Jayron Hosely or Prince Amukamara playing the slot corner position, which Antrel Rolle played last year.
There’s also the need to develop young players for 2013 and beyond: namely, second-year man Tyler Sash, who made contributions on special teams last year and seems to have the makings of an adequate starter. One starting Giants safety, Antrel Rolle, is scheduled to make $7 million both in 2013 and 2014, which is likely more than the team will want to pay for him at that point. The other safety, Kenny Phillips, will be a free agent after this coming season season.
POOR GUY: BRIAN WITHERSPOON, THE CORNERBACK WHO PERFORMED well during last year’s preseason and was expected to make the roster before tearing his ACL, re-tore that same ACL in his first practice back.
Significantly, Witherspoon, 26, sustained his injury during the same preseason game last year as Terrell Thomas. Thomas’s paycheck and starting job is secure, so he is taking his time getting back and didn’t participate in OTAs. Witherspoon’s job wasn’t. Now he faces an uphill climb at getting any another N.F.L. job again.
BEST OF BOTH WORLDS: VICTOR CRUZ, by losing in the Madden 13 cover semifinals to Patrick Willis, avoided the infamous Madden cover jinx, whose latest victim was Peyton Hillis, who was transformed by the curse from Browns star to Chiefs washout in one year’s time.
But cover or not, his famous salsa dance made this year’s version.
It’s not especially well-executed; if you didn’t know it was Cruz, you might thinK it was just one of those generic boxy dances all Madden receivers do when they score a touchdown. I haven’t played Madden in around a decade, and I’m a little surprised that these dances haven’t been substantively upgraded since my dorm days. But those are just cavils: It’s the thought that counts.
MANY GIANTS FANS WILL REMEMBER being really excited about William James, nee Will Peterson.
Last week, James/Peterson pled guilty to not paying taxes on nearly $10 million in income. He faces up to two years in prison and massive fines.
Peterson was one of the Giants' few bright spots during some lean years in the early part of the decade, when the team was short on talented young players who outperformed their paycheck. He was drafted in the third round the same year the Giants drafted Will Allen, another cornerback, in the first round. Two years into their careers, Peterson looked like the better player of the two, but his career was derailed by injuries and he never saw eye-to-eye with Tom Coughlin. Peterson hasn’t played since 2010, and Allen is still going strong, at age 33.
Peterson’s name now likely can be added to that grim statistic in Sports Illustrated’s landmark story three years ago: Within two years of retirement, 78 percent of N.F.L. players have gone bankrupt or are under financial distress.
NICE ARTICLE BY PAT TRAINA ABOUT THE MOST anonymous “starter” on the Giants roster last year: Fullback Henry Hynoski, who despite his starter status, only played on 35.5 percent of the snaps during the 15 games he suited up for, counting the postseason.
The ”best shape of my life" template is unavoidable this time of year, but these stories can be made worthwhile with interesting technical nuggets, like the one Hynoski reveals to Traina about trying to eliminate the small false step out of his two-point stance so that he can get to his blocks a split second quicker.
Hynoski, who starred as a running back—as opposed to fullback—in high school, also is hopeful he’ll be used more as a receiver and even as a runner in short yardage situations. According to Pro Football Focus’s game-charting stats, Hynoski caught 17 of 18 passes thrown his way last year, averaging a perfectly respectable 7.2 yards per reception. The stats also say that Eli Manning looked for him a little bit more as the season progressed: In his first five games, before an injury sidelined him for several weeks, Hynoski was targeted for passes just .8 times per game. When he returned for the season’s final ten games, he was targeted 14 times, or 1.4 times a game.