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Taylor Has It All--Including a 'Substance' Problem

April 07, 1986|BILL BRUBAKER | Washington Post

WASHINGTON — If Lawrence Taylor isn't the finest all-round athlete in the National Football League, he is certainly one of the wealthiest.

He lives with his wife and two children in affluent Upper Saddle River, N.J., in a $400,000 house with a $36,000 Mercedes and $35,000 BMW in the driveway.

The house is a dandy: 5 bedrooms, 3 1/2 baths on an acre of wonderfully landscaped property. There is a Doberman to guard the grounds, a maid to clean the floors and a live-in former teammate to look after the kids.

Who could ask for anything more?

There is more: Taylor is the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history. He will earn $750,000, or $46,875 per game, playing outside linebacker for the New York Giants this season. Next season, his salary will increase to $850,000, then to $900,000, $1 million and $1.1 million.

If that isn't enough, Taylor also has the use of a 25-year, $1 million loan, interest-free.

Who could ask for anything more?

There is more: Taylor's investment portfolio includes interests in Arabian horses, Holstein cattle, a sports-representation agency, a house in Virginia, a hotel in New Jersey, and a horse farm and apartment complex in Southern California. At one point last year, he had between $400,000 and $500,000 in a New Jersey bank account. Ready cash.

As for walking around money, Taylor has needed only to snap his fingers: in 1982, for example, he earned $37,500 for wearing a brand of shoes, $20,000 for endorsing a chewing tobacco and $7,500 for signing autographs at a bar mitzvah.

Who could ask for anything more?

Today, Lawrence Julius Taylor is asking for something more: Help.

On March 20, in a statement released through the Giants, Taylor surprised some of his closest friends by disclosing that in recent months he has been seeking "professional assistance" to combat a "difficult and ongoing battle" with "substance abuse."

The announcement did not surprise Giants and NFL club officials, who had suspected for more than a year that Taylor was abusing alcohol and cocaine. For more than a year, Giant Coach Bill Parcells also had expressed concerns about Taylor's off-the-field habits and associates, including a friendship with a New Jersey bar manager who has a criminal record.

In his statement, Taylor did not reveal the exact nature or cause of his problems and, in a recent phone conversation with a Washington Post reporter, he declined to discuss any aspect of his life, including his football career.

But from interviews with Taylor's friends and associates--and from testimony by Taylor in a little-known court case--a picture emerges of a small-town athlete who has been overwhelmed by the enormity of his big-city success.

"Lawrence Taylor lives in the fast lane--the serious fast lane," a longtime friend of Taylor's recently observed. "If we lived the way Lawrence does, maybe we'd have the same problems he's having now, who's to say? But before you judge Lawrence Taylor, you have to look at the road that he has traveled."

He grew up in a four-room frame house in Williamsburg, Va., the second-oldest of Clarence and Iris Taylor's three sons. His father was a shipyard worker who could afford only to provide for his family's basic needs. "I couldn't spend money on candy and stuff," Taylor once said. "I didn't have it." At times, Taylor stole to get what he needed. "Sometimes I had to," he admitted.

He didn't play high school football until he was a 5-foot-10, 180-pound junior. "At first, the other kids were just head and shoulders above him, and I looked for him to pack it in any day," recalled Melvin Jones, a coach at Williamsburg's Lafayette High. "But he hung in there, and by the middle of his senior year he was playing like he was possessed."

Although he had grown to 6 feet, 210 pounds, Taylor was never a darling of college recruiters. "Being a late bloomer, even Norfolk State didn't talk to the kid," Jones said. "But one day a North Carolina coach came by the school, just looking around. When he saw Lawrence on film, he offered him a scholarship, even though his grades were right on the borderline."

In Chapel Hill, Taylor struggled to attain an identity. "Having only played two years of high school ball, I'm not sure he had the respect of the guys at first," a former Tar Heels coach recalled. "So Lawrence felt that he had to prove himself--and to act out the image he thought a football player should portray."

"The image was mean and nasty," said North Carolina assistant coach Bobby Cale, a former teammate of Taylor's. "As a freshman playing on the special teams, he'd jump a good 6 or 7 feet in the air to block a punt, then land on the back of his neck. He was reckless, just reckless."

Off the field, Taylor figured the same image would fit nicely. "Lawrence always talked about gaining respect," said Steve Streater, Taylor's roommate for three years, "and we'd always juke him about how he wasn't getting respect at this bar downtown.

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