LT: LIVING ON THE EDGE By Lawrence Taylor and David Falkner Times Books. 225 pp.$16.95 PARCELLS Autobiography of the Biggest Giant of Them All By Bill Parcells with Mike Lupica Bonus Books. 258 pp. $17.95
Winning a Super Bowl no longer means simply being atop the National Football League, wearing a new gold ring and picking up a few thousand extra bucks; it's a gold-trimmed invitation for a coach or athlete to huddle with a sportswriter and come out with a quickie tell-all book. The latest Super Bowl champions, the New York Giants, have produced or are the subjects of at least 11 such books, meaning the Giants entered the season suffering perhaps as much from writers' cramp as from any football-produced affliction. Already these revelations have received an inordinate amount of attention.
The mere release of the excerpts of "LT" caused an uproar. Besides trashing his college coach, North Carolina's Dick Crum, and reveling in story after story that shows he has been just about the biggest bully ever to fit his head inside a helmet, Taylor comes off as an irresponsible lout when he spends an entire chapter talking about his recent cocaine addiction and alleged rehabilitation. Much of "LT" is a primer on why parents should go to any length to prevent their sons from playing football.
Before you get to the juicy New York tabloid kinda stuff, you first have to wade through page after page of flawed logic and just plain nonsense. Taylor indulges in such nonspeak for the first couple of chapters. One has to wonder why David Faulkner, who has written two other sports books, would let Taylor get away with saying something like, "My game plan included not talking to people very much. I wasn't about to give people the satisfaction of saying your 2 and 2 are the numbers I play by ..."
When he writes about life, one gets the feeling Taylor has about as much perspective as one of the quarterbacks he has knocked woozy. When he writes about football, in stunning and beautiful detail, the words are riveting. About sacking quarterbacks, Taylor says, "I feel my way into the quarterback's skin so that I almost know his moves before he does." And that precedes another personal observation that really does set up the rest of the book: "I deal with crises in my life -- like drugs -- the same way; last split second, when I'm right on the edge, my whole system on red alert."
Because "LT" chronicles his entire wild life, from his days drunkenly scaling dormitory walls to cheating on exams and drug tests, accepting illegal payments from an agent and making his wife miserable, Taylor sets himself up as an object of scorn. The rub is, he never asks for forgiveness. Probably the most impressive thing about "LT" is that he comes off as brutally frank. But that is bound to make a lot of people uncomfortable, especially in the closing chapters, when he writes about his drug problem.
Of his drug rehab, Taylor writes, "I stood on the golf course with my beer in my hand and I thought of all those media and management people scurrying around trying to figure out what tank I was in, what detox I was doing, and I enjoyed every minute of it. The golf course was my detox tank."
And that isn't as shocking as Taylor's saying that he doesn't "have advice for anyone" concerning teen-agers and drug use. In other words, "LT" is no attempt at PR.
"Parcells," written with Mike ("Reggie") Lupica, the New York Daily News columnist, is deftly crafted, as one expects from Lupica, and infinitely more insightful if less titillating than "LT." (although those who recognize Lupica's style will see there's an awful lot of Lupica and not too much Parcells).
Parcells, like most people who spend 15 hours a day, seven days a week, in dark rooms looking at film, lacks a little perspective also. At times he gives the impression that if you're not a coach or a player or a trainer or in some way intimately connected with football, you're just not with it, especially when he writes, "Players are long suffering, not fans." Players retire, get cut, traded, leave. Fans stay. And suffer.
But no sense nit-picking. Parcells is a bright, funny man who is not the completely typical coach given to football cliche's. The middle of his book is thorough in its illustration of exactly what football is in all its detail and drudgery and why someone like Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs has to listen to tapes of what happens with his wife and kids because he doesn't have time for life, just Memorex. For people who have to watch football coaches every day on the 5 o'clock news and are convinced none of them (other than Mike Ditka and Buddy Ryan) has an ounce of personality, "Parcells" is a relief.
The reviewer covers pro football for The Washington Post