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L.T.: Over The Edge

Lawrence Taylor, of the New York Giants, was probably the most intimidating and fearsome defensive player in the history of the NFL.

He ignited a firestorm in his interview with Correspondent Mike Wallace last November. And in his book, "LT Over the Edge," he acknowledged that his addiction to cocaine took over his life after football -- when he used to spend thousands of dollars a day on crack and women.

It's a far cry from his playing days when he'd seemed so indestructible.

Taylor's pulverizing hits won games and ended opponents' careers. If you were carrying the ball and saw No. 56 coming at you, your number was up.

For most of his 13 years in the NFL, he was the league's highest paid defensive star. And he told 60 Minutes that players would get a bonus when they knocked an opponent out of a game – he called it a bounty.

"That's just part of being the rough and tough football player. You get no pay for, for doing a cheap shot, but if I hit you straight up – we're going to get paid for that. That's part of life," says Taylor. "It may be $500. It may be $1,000. That's big money back then."

When Taylor started in the pros, this big man from the small town of Williamsburg, Va., said he was a man among boys.

"I was the king. And in the prime of my career there was no one better. There was no one better," he says.

And no one gave more in a game -- or less at practice. He'd regularly show up late for practice -- if he showed up at all.

Did he demand special treatment?

"That's a big word. What do you mean - special treatment?" asks Taylor, laughing. "I, flexibility, I like to call it. ...Flexible. You get to be flexible with me."

He was the king and he had a devious way to weaken opponents the night before the game – by sending escorts to their rooms to tire them out. Did it work?

Absolutely, says Taylor. "You know what they like and what type of women they like and you just call the service. What you got?"

The idea was to keep the player up all night. "Just as long as you can," says Taylor. "Every time they [opposing players] sit there and tell you, 'Oh, we gotta get some sleep,' that's when the party really starts."

He said he knew about this trick because it was done to him before a big game in Houston.

"Knock on the door, you open the door, and you got two beautiful women sitting there [saying] 'We're for you!' And I'm like, 'You're in the right place,'" Taylor recalls with a laugh.

When Wallace asks if they succeeded in tiring him out, Taylor says, "They did a pretty good job."

And some women gave Taylor as much trouble as opposing teams did. In fact, once he arrived for a team meeting in handcuffs. He claims he wasn't arrested; he was detained, not on drug charges, but by a couple of women whose profession was definitely not law enforcement.

"A couple of ladies that were trying out some new equipment they had. You know? And I just happened to ... and they just didn't happen to have the key," recalls Taylor, who says he ended up having to have a locksmith come over to take care of the problem.

Taylor said players are constant targets for two treacherous temptations -- beautiful women, and drug dealers.

He says drug dealers would give out free samples: "They're handing out free drugs because they want to get in. They want to be in your world. So, everything is free while they're getting into your world. But once they get into your world, they take over your world. No, it's their world. And you're just there, just a part of it."

Taylor said he first tried cocaine at a party during his rookie year, in 1981. And by his third season, he'd moved up to crack.

He wrote: "I'd go through an ounce a day. And at times I'd be standing in the huddle. And instead of thinking what defense we were playing I'd be thinking about smoking crack after the game."

"Well, like well, you gotta understand though. It didn't affect my play," adds Taylor.

To beat NFL drug tests, Taylor told 60 Minutes his teammates would give him their urine. But he finally failed a test, when the urine he'd been given turned out to be dirty. Then he failed a second drug test, and was suspended for four games in 1988. A third strike would have ended his career, so he gave up the drug for five years, but as he approached retirement, he looked forward to going back on cocaine.

He wrote: "I saw coke as the only bright spot in my future."

"Yeah," says Taylor today. "Because that's how powerful the drug is."

Taylor was so powerless to resist it that the day after his final game -- in 1994 -- he was back smoking crack. Later that year, he smoked it the day the Giants retired his number. For two years, he says he chased cocaine the way he'd chased quarterbacks. Finally, in 1996, his wife divorced him, and he was arrested for buying crack in South Carolina.

After his arrest a friend was quoted as saying, "You were lying on a couch in a fetal position, hugging a pillow and crying."

"I don't know about the crying part, but I might have been," says Taylor, who regrets that the publicity affected his four children. "What I put my kids through, that's the worst. That's the worst thing about the whole situation. What you put your kids through."

To regain their respect again, Taylor stayed off drugs for more than a year. But all he did, he says, was play golf and watch TV.

"And I'm just sitting there in my house by myself and it got old, it got old, and it got old. And I went to a party and things happened," recalls Taylor. "I went on a binge for like over a year. Every day for over a year."

From the fall of '97 through almost all of '98, LT lived a life of drugs, depravity and degradation.

"I had gotten really bad. I mean my place was almost like a crack house, not where you sold it, but I had a lot of stuff in my house," says Taylor, who at the time said he didn't want to know anyone who wasn't an addict, dealer or hooker.

He was spending about $1,000 a day on escort services and cocaine.

"It was a hell of expensive party. I tell you. The party never ended," says Taylor. "You know what, it was a party that never ended."

LT stayed so high, that he'd stay up for days at a time. White sheets covered his windows. And he rejected autograph show and endorsement proposals. When his agent, Mark Lepselter, saw how he was living, he couldn't believe it.

"It was to me a suburban crack den. Dank, desolate, disgusting. Holes in the couches. I remember looking out in the backyard and the pool looked like a cesspool," says Lepselter. "I don't think he was aware of anything."

Taylor wrote: "I started feeling doomed. You want out but the disease won't let you out."

But once again, it wouldn't end until he was arrested. And in the fall of 1998, he was arrested twice -- charged with buying crack in Florida, and possessing drugs in New Jersey.

This time, he had two choices: Either take rehab seriously or face years in prison.

"You gonna have to do something now because you could actually go do some time. You know. And they made that clear. They was gonna lock, lock me up," says Taylor. "I finally got it. I actually wanted to work the program, make it work."

And he did. He spent two months in rehab, and when he got out in 1999, he was clean and vowing to stay that way.

He finally was voted into the Football Hall of Fame, and this big, tough, intimidating ballplayer turned soft when Wallace read to him what his 17-year-old son, TJ, said about him at his Hall of Fame induction: "I love my father. I'd do anything for him just as he'd do anything for me and my sisters - Whitney, Tanisha, Paula. If I could pick anybody to be my father, I'd pick Lawrence Taylor every time."

"My kids, you know, I thank God for them," says Taylor. "I've come a long way and, and you know what? It's so easy for, you know, for them to, my friends and my kids, just let me go by the wayside, but they was there, stood beside me."

They stood beside him, and he's determined never to let them down again -- but he's not making any promises.

He's been clean for five years and two months. He believes he won't go back to cocaine, like the many times he's done before.

"I don't look at it like I won't go back. I don't. Every day I look at it like, it's still a struggle," says Taylor, who admits he's a recovering addict. "I'm recovering. Every day, I'm recovering. I think the likelihood of it happening lessens every day for me. Because, you know, my life is so much better."

Taylor still has plenty of money from successful investments, and he's building a big house in Florida. He also has a new wife who, he says, keeps him in line.

His new book, "LT: Over the Edge," has just been published. And he told 60 Minutes that he's through being LT, the hell-raiser who seemed larger than life.

Now, he prefers to be called "Lawrence."

"LT left a long time ago. He's left the building. I took my earring off. I don't want my earring anymore, because I'm tired of being LT," he says. "I don't want to be LT no more. LT is good for the comic books.

"I like Lawrence Taylor. Lawrence Taylor can handle life a lot better than LT. LT can play some helluva football, though, he's a helluva football player."

These days, he's mainly a golfer with a low handicap. He plays almost every day. And he signs autographs, for money, at memorabilia shows. His book rocketed onto the bestseller list, and there's talk that it may be made into a movie. Finally, as for his demons, he says he's still winning those daily battles -- and that he's stayed drug-free.
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