LT: Only way to beat Peyton? 'Hit him'
Greatest pass-rusher ever says Seahawks need to make Manning eat MetLife turf
The Super Bowl In New York
Lawrence Taylor has heard all about the big game the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks are playing in his old backyard, and over the phone Friday morning, he did not sound the least bit sorry he wasn't suiting up Sunday in Jersey.
"My home was torn down," he said of Giants Stadium. "Now it's MetLife, or whatever. My home is gone."
Gone but not forgotten, in large part because of LT. The New York Giants could play football for another 100 years before they find another linebacker like him. No man ever inspired more fear in an opposing quarterback than Taylor did, if only because he played the game as recklessly as he lived his life.
He said he didn't plan on attending Super Bowl XLVIII, that he planned only to make some appearances over the weekend. But arguably the greatest defensive player of all time had some thoughts on how Seattle might contain arguably the greatest offense of all time, and it would shock nobody that LT started and ended with the Denver quarterback, Peyton Manning.
"Seattle has to put him on his ass," Taylor said.
Of course he said that.
But as much as he was dedicated to putting quarterbacks on their asses, Taylor has a deep appreciation for Manning's career, and for his record-breaking season of 55 touchdown passes and 5,477 yards.
"He has total command of a football game, five great receivers, and I think the only way to beat him is to hit him," Taylor told ESPNNewYork.com. "You've got to pressure him and make him make bad decisions. If he gets to stand back there and look at his receivers, he's going to kill you."
Before the Super Bowl 23 years ago, Taylor was hearing the same thing about Jim Kelly and the high-flying Buffalo Bills, who had beaten the Los Angeles Raiders 51-3 in the AFC Championship Game. The Giants had just survived the kind of street fight in San Francisco that the Seahawks took from the Niners in Seattle, had just denied Joe Montana and Jerry Rice a chance at a three-peat by kicking five Matt Bahr field goals, the last one on the game's final play, and few gave them much of a shot to beat Buffalo in Tampa.
The Giants would win that Super Bowl by playing four corners with the clock, and by putting Scott Norwood in position to take a 47-yard kick on grass he wasn't capable of making.
"I see Denver-Seattle a little bit like that," Taylor said, "because it's a high-powered offense against a great defense. To tell you the truth, when we won the Super Bowl that year we weren't the best team in the league. San Francisco and Buffalo were better teams on paper, but we just played better than they did when we had to.
"We were very fortunate to have Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick, and Belichick gave us a great defensive scheme to nullify what Buffalo was killing everybody with. That's what Seattle needs here. They have to have a plan against Denver's offense, and they need to play defense the way they've played it every Sunday. Denver is the team to beat. They're the Goliath right now, but they can be had."
Chances are, the Broncos won't be had if their offensive line grants the quarterback a clean pocket. Taylor never competed against Manning, but has watched him enough over the years to understand that he presents a much bigger challenge than even a Hall of Famer like Kelly did.
"I watch Peyton orchestrate drives, watch him do his thing out there," Taylor said, "and I say to myself, 'Damn, how the hell do I defend him?' The only way I can see to nullify him is to knock him down. You have to send all kinds of blitzes at him to make him feel uncomfortable."
No pass-rusher had a talent for making quarterbacks feel uncomfortable quite like LT's. So with Super Bowl XLVIII two days away, and with Peyton's legacy representing the game's primary storyline, it was a good time to ask Taylor if he believes Manning would go down as the best ever if he wins a second ring, or if LT's contemporary, Montana, would still merit that unofficial title.
Taylor made it clear that he is a big Manning fan, and that he would've loved to have competed against him, loved to have measured his greatness against Peyton's.
But the game has changed. This year's Broncos became the first team to score 600 or more points in a season; the Buffalo team that lost to LT's Giants in the Super Bowl led the league with 428.
So Taylor picked Montana for old-school reasons. "It's simply because Montana did it in an era where the rules weren't favorable to the quarterback," he said. "Right now, you can't intimidate the receiver, you can't hit anybody, and it's like a seven-on-seven drill out there, where a good quarterback will destroy you.
"I'm a little biased because of my era, but if you're asking Peyton Manning or Joe Montana, I'm saying Montana."
Some football fans would argue that Montana's four Super Bowl rings carry the day over Manning's one or (potentially) two, yet Taylor doesn't hold that scorecard against Peyton.
"But the rules did make it easier for him than it was for Montana," he said. "I love Montana. So if you're asking me if I'd put Peyton as the No. 1 quarterback of all time if he wins this game, no, I'm not going to do that."
Fair enough. The Seahawks will have something to say about this debate, anyway. Even if they don't have Belichick as a coordinator, they do have the league's best defense, a unit capable of winning Sunday's game.
But the Seahawks won't win it in LT's old backyard by asking their signature secondary to sit back and intercept the ball.
"The only way to beat Peyton Manning," Lawrence Taylor said, "is to hit him."
What else would you want the greatest pass-rusher of them all to say?