|ESPN.com: BlogsColumns||[Print without images]|
NEW YORK -- Up on the fifth floor of Radio City Music Hall, in the kind of VIP suite where no cameras or notebooks are allowed, Drew Brees looked like an awestruck toddler as he listened to the man lording over him, a Hall of Famer named Jim Brown.
Brown is the greatest running back of all time. Standing at a nearby table, the greatest wide receiver of all time, Jerry Rice, was making small talk with a small circle of guests. Over Rice's right shoulder, in an adjacent room graced by the presence of an elegant phantom, Barry Sanders, sat the greatest linebacker of all time.
|Lawrence Taylor (right), shown with Deion Sanders, wants to see a more aggressive Giants defense.|
Lawrence Taylor turned from his wife, Lynette, and said he didn't want to talk about the Giants, or how disgusted he was with his former team in its farewell Giants Stadium game last December, a 41-9 loss to the Panthers that went into the books as the ultimate gutless goodbye.
Then Taylor laughed and waved his hand. Didn't want to talk about the New York Giants? How could Lawrence Julius Taylor not want to talk about the Giants?
"I'll tell you what the Giants need in this draft," LT said.
"What's that?" he was asked.
Linebackers. What was No. 56 supposed to say?
Just as the biggest Giant of them all was making his draft-night stand, the linebacker his old team coveted, Alabama's Rolando McClain, was taken off the board by Al Davis at No. 8.
"I like that kid," Taylor said of McClain. "Saw him on some clips. Big guy who can run. He's a beast."
The Raiders' beast now.
Before the Giants opened Door No. 2 and selected South Florida's Jason Pierre-Paul with the 15th overall pick, Taylor was back to blitzing a Giants defense that surrendered 40-plus points three times in the final four games of '09.
The very unit that had defined LT's two championship teams and had crushed Tom Brady's 19-0 dream had been reduced to a practical joke under Bill Sheridan, the ousted defensive coordinator who appeared to embrace a Charmin-soft approach.
"You can't play read and react and win in this league," Taylor said. "Rod Rust came in with that read and react [in 1992], and I've never in my life seen so many points scored on us.
"The Giants need to get back to attacking on defense. Don't worry about what the offense is going to do and react to that. Attack them and make them worry about what you're going to do."
LT was on a roll, working himself into a lather, looking ready to spring from his chair and hit the Super Bowl MVP, Brees, from the blind side.
"Maybe the Giants should consider going to a 3-4," LT said. "Put their speed guys on the outside, Osi [Umenyiora] and [Mathias] Kiwanuka, and turn them loose. That's where all your pressure on the quarterback comes from anyway."
Soon enough No. 56 was back on the Giants' linebackers, an area of pressing need. The team needs help in the middle. Antonio Pierce is going, going, gone, and he had a spectacular talent for talking louder than he played, anyway.
"When I first got here in '81," LT said, "the Giants had a tradition of linebackers who hit you. That's going back to the old days, Sam Huff and those guys. When the Giants have been good, they've had those linebackers.
"I was there with Harry Carson and Brad Van Pelt and Brian Kelley, and then it was Carl Banks and [Gary] Reasons and Pepper [Johnson]. That meant something to me, to be a part of that linebacker history of the Giants. That meant a lot to me."
Winning meant more. Winning the Giant way, combining physical force with the swampland's unforgiving winter elements to pound late-season foes into submission.
Last year's Giants defaced that tradition, angering Taylor in that final home game, inspiring him to leave after his halftime appearance and to let his friend, Carson, do the public shredding of the team's effort.
John Mara would pick up where Carson left off, punctuating the lost season with a rant that cut against the grain of the team owner's neighborly style. Perry Fewell was hired to replace Sheridan. Pierre-Paul was hired to get to the quarterback and make Fewell look smart.
Thursday night, when told LT was campaigning for a return to more aggressive defensive schemes, Mara sounded like he'd been doing some of the same.
"We beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl because they couldn't block us up front," Mara said. "You have to get to the quarterback to win, and [Pierre-Paul] has incredible athletic ability, plays with a very high motor, and has a huge upside.
"In the Northeast you have to have a physical defense. We play against huge offensive lines, and if you don't have that you'll get pushed around. I know our fans prefer that style, and I do, too. It's worked for us in the past."
The likes of Lawrence Taylor made it work. To honor its 75th draft, the NFL released a list of the 10 most valuable picks of all time. Nearly 45 million votes were cast on NFL.com, and nine of the 10 icons chosen represented the positions of quarterback, running back and receiver.
LT was the only man selected from the more violent side of the ball.
"Really?" Taylor said. "The only one."
The one and only, even if there's another LT -- LaDainian Tomlinson -- working the Jets' side of town.
"I talked to [Tomlinson] a long time ago about that, when he was playing really good," Taylor said. "I called him BLT -- Baby LT. If he doesn't play well in New York, it's going to be tough. But if he does play well, it's going to be great for him.
"I'm fine with him sharing the name. I guess the old-school guys know who the first LT is."
The old-school guys know something else: The 2010 Giants need to get back to hitting people.
They need to return to a brand of football perfected by the greatest linebacker of all.
Ian O'Connor is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.