1987 by Lawrence Taylor and David Falkner, from the forthcoming book "LT: Living on the Edge," to be published by Times Books in September.
The Giants' basic philosophy of defense is this: Kick the hell out of the other team. What we do is easy to put into words, but a little harder to carry out because everything depends on execution. That's why you can go to sleep in a meeting room but still be front and center on Sundays.
From the time I got to the Giants until the present, there has always been a great deal of pride on defense. We pride ourselves on a few simple things: on the way we hit people, putting a lot of pressure on the quarterback and hustling all the time; on the last play of the game, whether it's a blowout or a cliff-hanger, you run with the same intensity. We run to the ball -- which means that wherever it bounces, is carried or is thrown, you're going to see a bunch of blue jerseys there ready to put you through the trash compactor.
We play a lot of zone and will go man-to-man only in special situations or if we're backed up inside our 20. We don't stunt a lot. We don't try to fool you. When we get you thinking, it's mainly about getting hit by someone who's 250 pounds and can run the 40 in 4.6. Our game is fundamentals -- blocking and tackling, and getting to the football . . .
The Giants defense perfectly suited my type of game. Even as a rookie, when I didn't know many of the plays, what I did matched, rather than conflicted with, what the Giants were after on defense. It's true that back then, playing with reckless abandon, giving 110 percent and jumping and diving onto people, fired up other players around me and the fans, too. When teams run the ball away from me, they have to go to Carl Banks' side. Don't do that . . . . No one plays the run better than he does. This guy gets through blockers like he's invisible and then hits you like a truck or a crazed rhino. With any other team, he would have gone straight to the Pro Bowl.
Leonard Marshall is 6-3 and 285 pounds. He looks fat and slow. He's mean and quick. When he and I run a game or a stunt to adjust to a blocking pattern, one of us is likely to get there.
Jimmy Burt coming up the middle and Harry Carson stuffing the inside can just take the air out of an offense. There's no oxygen left on the line of scrimmage. It you're a quarterback, even if you drop shallow and release the ball quickly, you're liable to get your brains scrambled. We put five quarterbacks on the shelf last year -- and it was all clean. All the while we had guys waiting to get in the game who would start for most other teams in the league.
Teams are defined by their linebackers. All units on a team have a special character. Your defensive backs, for example, are most often very high-strung and nervous. These little fly guys, the real fast ones, are going to talk all kinds of menace during the week. They tell you who they're going to hit and they tell you all about their girls and then as game day approaches they get quieter and quieter because they suddenly feel it's on the line for them. Your linemen -- defensive and offensive -- hang out with each other. They're all big stocky guys and they are the mellow ones on a team; they tend to be shy and easygoing.A Linebacker's Makeup
The linebackers, because they tend to fall somewhere in the middle -- they're linemen and defensive backs at the same time -- are harder to figure, but when you do, you'll get to the personality of your team. Show me a team's linebackers and I'll tell you a lot about that team's character.
Our linebackers have all tended to be big, fast and slightly crazy. The Giants like to say that you have to be 6-3 and 230 pounds even to be drafted at linebacker in the organization, but don't be fooled by anything you hear that sounds just technical. They're looking at what's inside these bodies, too. They won't quite say it, but they're looking for a linebacker who thinks hitting is fun. When I was drafted, I don't think anyone was concerned with how fast or how well I'd take to the playbook. My size, speed and wildness were football qualities the Giants understood. Not that the Giants are looking for people who'll go nuts off the field -- it's just that they want guys who have this thing about hitting. All teams talk about it, of course, but the Giants seem to know how to go out there and find it.
There's something about hitting a person, getting in a hard lick, that just turns people on. It gets a crowd going and it gets your teammates going. I know that I built my career on that, and I still love it. In the early days, when the Giants weren't doing much, I felt extra pressure to come up with one of these plays. It was the equivalent of going for the bomb or the long ball on offense.
Let me tell you about the "big" play. It's mainly bull. I've always known that, just as I've known that the "big play" does more to get you noticed than how well you play. Sixty or 70 percent of the time, the defense doesn't do it -- the offense simply stops itself . . .
Take the business of sacks. A sack gets fans jumping out of their seats. You lead the charge. You leap to your feet and everybody is into high-fiving and doing little special numbers. That's fun, although there's a "Gastineau rule" now that cuts down on sack dancing. The important thing is where a sack comes in a game. It's one thing in a close game when you stop a drive with it; it's another when the game is already decided. If you want to find out what kind of hitting a player is really doing, don't just look for his sack total. See how many tackles he makes. We have sack artists on our club who don't make too many tackles . . .
Last season I had more sacks than I ever had in any single season in college or the pros. I came within two of setting an NFL record. I wanted to get it badly in the last two games of the season, but I didn't. The important thing, though, was that in the several games where I didn't make big plays, where the offense worked like a good defense in stopping me, it didn't matter. Last season proved, if anyone needed proof, that stopping me didn't mean you stopped us . . .
I didn't get my second sack until the fifth game of the season, against St. Louis. By then, I was feeling much more like my old self. I was off game film and out on the town, enjoying myself. I had to make compromises, of course, but I was myself again. I did what I wanted. If I wanted to drink, I drank. If I wanted to go out, I went out.
Most of all, I was who I was on the football field. I didn't change my approach to the game or to authority. I liked it when they called me crazy in 1981; I liked it just as much in 1987. I was no more a hero about practices and preparation than I ever had been. I quit doing weights. I'd go to sleep if a meeting got boring. I'd gun my car around but I was there on Sundays. And, oh yeah, there was no dope.
My recovery was not a recovery if I couldn't be myself.
I was pumped by every sack, every hit. Every game had this extraordinary personal pressure to keep it up, to be as good or better than before. There was no great fun in that. But the season happened to carry all of us beyond anything personal we were playing for. Next: Playing the Redskins