Lawrence Taylor made a wager with his old coach, Bill Parcells, that he would not be reduced to tears today at his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. After his 17-year-old son's affectionate introduction, it was touch and go, but Taylor managed to keep his composure.
Taylor, a dominating defender for the New York Giants whom Lawrence Taylor Jr. described as "the best linebacker in the history of the game," was enshrined in front of a somewhat raucous crowd of 3,000. Several hundred fans in blue and white Giants jerseys sat in one bleacher section and chanted "LT, LT!" as their hero strode to the microphone.
Taylor was honored along with Cleveland Browns tight end Ozzie Newsome, Los Angeles Rams running back Eric Dickerson, Rams guard Tom Mack and Buffalo Bills guard Billy Shaw.
Dickerson, chosen in his first year of eligibility, got one of the bigger laughs of the day when he followed Shaw to the podium and introduced Shaw's wife, Pat, to the crowd. Shaw seemingly had thanked every other important person in his life going back to his childhood days in Vicksburg, Miss., but forgot to mention Pat. When she stood up, he bowed deeply in her direction and blew several kisses.
Newsome was cheered -- and barked at -- heartily by many in the crowd wearing the brown and orange colors of the old and new Browns, who play their first preseason game here Monday night against the Dallas Cowboys.
The barking sound effect came from a number of refugees from the Browns' "Dawg Pound" brigade in full costumed regalia. Many of them howled in glee over any mention of the return of pro football to northeast Ohio and growled angrily and booed when Art Modell's complimentary comments about Newsome were shown on a giant Jumbotron screen.
Modell moved the old Browns to Baltimore three years ago and is still reviled in this corner of the world. Now the vice president of personnel for the Baltimore Ravens, Newsome never did mention the boss's name in his induction speech, following Modell's instructions.
But in a news conference before the induction ceremony, he acknowledged Modell's influence. "Art is a big part of what has happened to me, and he's not going to be here," Newsome said.
During his speech, Newsome made an obvious allusion to the man who drafted him in 1978 and put him in charge of providing players for the Ravens.
"There are a lot of people who had a lot to do with Ozzie Newsome who, for different reasons, can't be here physically," he said. "But I know they're here for me spiritually."
Taylor also pined for Parcells, who was in camp with the New York Jets this weekend.
"I have never in my life had a coach who knew the game of football so well and knew me so well and put them together to make such a great combination," Taylor said. "I wish Bill could be here. I love him dearly."
A number of former high school, college and pro teammates turned out for all five inductees, but Taylor emphasized the presence of former Giants middle linebacker Harry Carson in the crowd. Carson had made deeply critical comments about Taylor's most recent problems with cocaine use, and Taylor admitted today they had a major falling out because of it.
Carson's presence at the ceremony, Taylor said, was "the classiest thing I've ever seen in my life." Taylor also introduced "my ex-wife Linda, my in-laws, well, my ex-in laws. And I thank her for putting up with everything I did. I still love 'em all."
Taylor's son, a high school senior-to-be who lives in Charlotte, offered a touching introduction to his father, whose transgressions over the years, including several arrests, have been well-documented.
"I admire my father because he was never one to deny it when he's done wrong things," he said. "But he's also done a lot of right things. If I could pick anyone to be my father, it would be Lawrence Taylor every time. Thank you for being there and never letting me settle for less."
Taylor's son also jokingly thanked former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski "for making my father what he is. Without him, he never would have set the all-time sack record."
The father drew a laugh, too, when he described his relationship with Parcells as "like a marriage that goes on for 30 years -- you don't talk any more but you know you love each other."
But Taylor also spoke about serious topics.
"What kind of legacy do you want to leave, because life can knock you down and turn you out?" he said. "You can have problems every day of your life, but sometimes, like Ozzie said before, you gotta just go out and play.
"Anybody can quit. A Hall of Famer never quits. A Hall of Famer realizes that the crime is not being knocked down. The crime is not getting up again."
Pro Football Hall of Fame
L.A. Rams (1983-87), Indianapolis Colts (1987-91), L.A. Raiders (1992), Atlanta Falcons (1993)
Ran for an NFL record 2,105 yards with the Rams in 1984.
Third in career rushing with 13,259 yards.
Rushed for more than 1,000 yards seven times.
Drafted second overall in 1983.
NFL player of the year in 1984.
Offensive player of the year in 1986.
Rushed for a playoff- record 248 yards in a 1985 division playoff game.
Los Angeles Rams
Never played in a Super Bowl but was Pro Bowl selection 11 times in 13 years, starting seven.
During his career, Rams had 12 winning seasons, won their division eight times and played in four NFC championships.
Played 184 straight games.
Never missed a game because of injury.
No. 1 draft pick, 2nd overall, 1966.
Tops all NFL tight ends in career receptions (662, for 7,980 yards and 47 TDs).
Went 150 games with at least one reception.
Had 89 catches in 1983 and '84.
Was All-Pro in 1979 and '84.
Caught 50 or more passes in six seasons.
Didn't fumble in last 557 carries or receptions.
Played in three AFC championships, three Pro Bowls.
Buffalo Bills (1961-1969)
Driving force behind Bills' offensive unit that emphasized the run.
First-team All-AFL 1962- '66.
Played in eight AFL all-star games.
Is on pro football's All-Decade Team of the '60s and All-Time AFL Team.
Captain for eight seasons; played on the championship teams of 1964 and '65.
New York Giants (1981-1993)
Redefined linebacker position.
132.5 sacks, plus 9.5 in 1981 when stat was unofficial.
Anchored Giants' defense in two Super Bowl victories (1986, 1991).
NFL most valuable player in 1986, after a career-high 20.5 sacks.
Defensive player of the year in 1981, '82 and '86.
10 consecutive Pro Bowls.
On 75th Anniver-sary All-Time Team.
SOURCE: Associated Press and the National Football League