HOT WATER:

Giants LB Lawrence Taylor said he might take legal action against sportscaster Howard Cosell for suggesting on a radio talk show that Taylor has cheated on NFL drug tests.

Cosell said Taylor "has fresh vials of Bible Belt urine," a suggestion that Taylor might be substituting his urine with someone else's to pass the league's drug test.

Under the NFL's substance abuse policy, athletes are required to give urine samples during random checks. Taylor has twice failed the test and a third violation would result in him being banned from the league.

Cosell, a guest Thursday on Bill Mazer's WFAN radio show in New York, panned the Giants, criticized the NFL as an "illegal monopoly" and raised the issue of Taylor's drug testing. "Of course, LT has fresh vials of Bible Belt urine, and how he still is being allowed to play in a duly adjudicated illegal monopoly is beyond me," he said.

Yesterday Cosell said his comments were made in jest: "It's a joke. Everything was a joke. Anything I said was right out of Lawrence Taylor's own book."

In "LT: Living On The Edge," published two years ago, Taylor acknowleged that vials of his teammates' urine were sometimes submitted as his own.

NFL spokesman Joe Browne said NFL players now supply urine in full view of a medical technician, making it impossible to switch or taint samples.

Taylor said he has been clean since 1988. "The NFL has a drug policy in place that I have adhered to on a weekly basis for the past three years," he said. "Cosell is questioning the credibility of that drug policy. He ought to take it up with the league office, rather than with me."

HEBERT FAILS:

A Superior Court judge in Los Angeles refused to exempt former Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert from the NFL's free-agent guidelines, virtually eliminating any chance he had of playing this season.

Hebert is suing the NFL and the Raiders for abiding by what he claims are illegal free-agent rules. Judge John Zebrowski refused to grant a preliminary injunction which would have allowed the quarterback to negotiate to play.

Zebrowski ruled that the question of the legality of the NFL's free-agent guidelines for protected players was an issue for a federal court, not a state court. He said if he granted Hebert's request, teams in California would potentially be operating under different rules than teams in other states.

INS AND OUTS:

Steelers T Tunch Ilkin, who has started 51 straight games, dislocated his left elbow yesterday in practice and will be out indefinitely. . . . Lions signed DE Jeff Hunter and waived DE Kevin Brooks. . . . Broncos TE Clarence Kay injured his right knee and might have arthroscopic surgery to repair what appears to be torn cartilage. . . . Cardinals WR J.T. Smith might sit out Sunday's game in Miami because of a sprained right ankle, Coach Joe Bugel said. . . . Falcons recalled WR Stacey Bailey.