Copyright @ 1987 by Lawrence Taylor and David Falkner, from the forthcoming book, "LT: Living on the Edge," to be published by Times Books in September.
I love playing the Redskins. They're physical, the way we are. They play very hard and clean and they don't mess with your head. When we play them, it's 11 guys against 11 guys and the stronger will survive. I love beating them.
The Redskins don't necessarily do the same things from week to week. They may have a tight end in the backfield one week but not another; they may put two tight ends together or split their backs out. But you know that whatever look they give you, they are always going to come at you with their same plays. They're going to run their specials, they'll run their play-action, they'll go short yardage on first down to set up a second and third and fourth so that they'll be able to bring the full range of their offense into play as soon as possible. In the end, they're not fancy, and neither are we.
But to defend against them you've got to keep certain things in mind. Washington runs a one-back offense. We know that George Rogers and Kelvin Bryant are not going to wind up blocking for each other, so our setup is designed to take their one-back run and close it down. We have a play -- Down Fire Lion Zero -- which is basically keying me to George Rogers. I go where he goes. He almost never gets outside.
When they run their special, with their line all pulling one way, we will kick the guard or tackle back inside if we can and penetrate a gap. If George is forced back inside by closing the corner to him, he's dead; if he goes outside, I'm going to devour him. We took Washington's run away our first game against the Redskins and pretty nearly every game we've played them recently because, bull to bull, we just beat them.
In that first game, which we won, 27-20, we had a real problem with Jay Schroeder. Schroeder, who was the NFC's Pro Bowl quarterback last season, is big and mobile. He's been the quarterback only a short while -- since Joe Theismann broke his leg and had to retire in 1985 -- but he's given them a dimension they didn't have with Joe.
We had Jay and the Redskins pretty well contained during the first half. We led, 13-3, going into the locker room, and then when we added another score shortly into the third period, we seemed to be in pretty good shape. That's when Schroeder took over. He rolled up more than 400 passing yards for the game, and most of them seemed to come in the second half. We broke a 20-20 tie with a last-minute touchdown run by Joe Morris.
Now, when a guy rolls up 400 yards passing on you, there are two possibilities: either he's that good or you're that bad. In our case, it was a combination of both. I knew I was myself in that game for a few reasons. I got some good hits in it, I left the field with my body hurting -- I don't know where or how, but my shoulder was on fire -- and I was in a rage at the noncoverage we had thrown at Washington. Schroeder had been bombing us for 30 minutes, and whatever we were doing up front to pressure him -- we sacked the sonuvadog four times -- didn't seem to matter. One of our defensive backs fell down on one long pass; there were stupid calls and blown coverages on others. I went crazy.
I hollered at the defensive backs for making the same mistakes twice, I hollered at our coaches for calling the same plays that had gotten us burned just before. I wound up kicking over some Gatorade and being just a madman on the sidelines.
In the second Washington game at RFK Stadium, we didn't prepare much differently than for the first game. We knew who we were playing and we knew the stakes. Whoever won this second game in December was going to wind up as Eastern Division champion and get home field for the playoffs. It didn't take an expert to tell any of us that we couldn't let Schroeder do to us this time what he did in the first game.
I didn't watch film. I didn't pay that much attention during the meetings. As long as I knew Washington wasn't coming at us with something brand new, I just wanted to play the game . . .
We all wanted to close down Schroeder. We all knew that, as big and mobile as he was, he ran basically to find throwing room -- not, like John Elway, also to look for rushing yards. We wanted to keep him in the pocket if we could, but we also wanted to pressure him wherever he was. For me, the best pressure would be to cream him. I'll take a hurry-up, anything that helps, but if I can demolish a guy, that's the best. Nothing takes the heart out of you faster than having a safe fall on your head when you're not looking.
I wanted Jay Schroeder. And I got him. I hit him blind side, onside and upside down. I was in his face again and again. I sacked him three times and was near him all afternoon. It was one of those games where I just was not going to be denied. I had no problem beating Joe Jacoby or anyone else. Nothing seemed to get in the way -- not even our own play-calling. On two of the sacks I got, my assignment was to drop in coverage. Sometimes you go by the book and you're going to lose. Try to tell that to a coach. I don't. I just do what I have to.
The championship game was as different from the second Washington game as the second was from the first. The Redskins, like any good team, aren't going to get beat the same way twice. Like a lot of teams late in the year, they seemed determined to make sure they weren't going to let me be a factor. I was double-teamed, triple-teamed and just plain worked over all afternoon as we shut out the Redskins for the NFC East title, 17-0.
I was as happy as could be. I played my part simply by making those guys work too hard on me, making them vulnerable elsewhere. The point was that we have other guys ready and able to wreck them.
You want to know about the Giant D? Look at Jay Schroeder through those three games. In the first, the man was a bombardier. In the second, he got his wings shot out from under him. In the championship game, whenever he dropped back to pass, he would suddenly give this little twist of the head to see if anything was coming from his blind side just before he released the ball. He was shell-shocked. He just wasn't the same player he was the first time he faced us. That isn't to say he won't get out there and bomb us silly at some time again, but in 1986, running what we did at him, we hit his body and got to his head.
I had myself a season, all right. But my team gave me a season, too. Toward the end of the year, I made paperweights in the shape of Super Bowl rings that I gave to every member of the team. It was my way of saying thanks for making things a little easier in the roughest year of my life.
Editor's note: Because of the publisher's contract with Sport magazine, Taylor's battle with drugs will not appear in The Washington Post until September.