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During an interview with Dave Anderson of the New York Times in 2003, Lawrence Taylor spoke openly about his past drug and legal problems. He said they were behind him, and that those actions were the work of a man known as LT who, according to Taylor, "died a long time ago, and I don't miss him at all."
According to Taylor, the reckless style that made him the game's greatest linebacker carried over into his personal life. That meant a lot of booze, cocaine and hookers during his free time, pursuits that led to a pair of suspensions from the NFL and, in a story told to Mike Wallace, showing up at a Giants practice still wearing the handcuffs placed on him by call girls the night before.
He was the baddest of bad boys and his first few years after retirement painted an ugly picture. Taylor later said that he gave up drugs at the tail end of his career to avoid a lifetime suspension and that getting back to cocaine was the one thing he looked forward to when his career was over. He tried and failed rehab a few times, got arrested a few times on drug charges tied to crack and seemed headed for a dismal, lurid ending.
Even at his worst, though, LT was never accused of doing anything as bad as what happened on Thursday. Taylor was arrested in New Jersey early Thursday, charged with raping a 16-year-old prostitute in an upstate New York hotel room. The teen was reported missing by her family two months ago. Her accused pimp was also arrested. Taylor has denied the charges through his lawyer and is out on $75,000 bail.
We'll steer clear of any rush to judgment about the legal merits of the case, and merely look at how surprising this is in light of the last decade of Taylor's life.
Since being arrested twice on crack-related charges in 1998, Taylor has gone from being a cautionary tale of excess to a celebrated enfant terrible who lived to enjoy life on the other side. He wrote an autobiography and did interviews that left few stones unturned, decisions that allowed him back into the football mainstream and gave him a chance to make a living off his status as a living football legend.
Anecdotes about sending prostitutes to opposing players on the night before a game might seem like an odd way back into the NFL's good graces, but Taylor pulled it off by telling the stories with honesty, humor and a sense that he realized how lucky he was to have come out alive. He spoofed his image in the movie "Any Given Sunday" and in "Grand Theft Auto" video games, moves back into popular culture that he used as a springboard to a stint on "Dancing With the Stars."
It was a pretty remarkable transformation and one that figured to keep Taylor busy for the rest of his life. His past became a selling point, especially in a sport like football that celebrates the roguish elements. The message LT put out what that he'd never hurt other human beings with his behavior.
That's changed now with these charges. Regardless of how they play out, stories like this don't fade easily from memories. Taylor won't be able to poke fun at his past wildness and get a positive reaction anymore, and, of course, he might be facing far more serious punishment.
Taylor's last few years served as a reminder that there's always a chance to change paths and find a happier ending. Thursday's news is a more unwelcome reminder that happy endings aren't written in stone.