Business Lessons I Learned from Lawrence Taylor
It may not be obvious to everyone, but for me, sports has provided a platform for lessons in my business career. In my brief time in the NFL, I encountered exceptional people, great leaders, and an expectation of attention to detail that helped me later in life.
In 1986, I played for the Cardinals as a wide receiver. In my first start we were playing the NY Giants. The Giants had a great defense and one of the most dominant players of all time – Lawrence Taylor. Our offensive coaches were clearly concerned about Taylor. Taylor is a Hall of Famer and might be considered the greatest defensive player of all time and he was in his prime.
“L.T.” was big, 6’4”, 250 lbs, but he was also the fastest player on the field. He was a great pass rusher and he could stop the run. One of toughest things about him was that it was difficult to run away from him. If you ran to the opposite side he was so fast that he would run down the running back from behind. You could not run at him and you could not run away from him.
Our coaches were clearly concerned and decided to come up with a new play to deter L.T.’s back side stops. I will never forget our offensive coordinator, Jim Shofner, say “Fox, when we run the sweep right, you go in motion and “redirect” Taylor.” Notice he did not say block Taylor, he said “redirect”.
I was willing to do anything I was told but I was also concerned that we had never gone in motion before and we only had one play that now called for motion – the play I was supposed to go against Taylor.
The first drive of the game, we called the sweep and I slowly jogged out to line up thinking about how I was about to block Lawrence Taylor. And how was I going to block Lawrence Taylor? I knew he was not expecting me to block him so I did have the element of surprise but that was about my only advantage. Neil Lomax, our quarterback, signaled for me to go in motion and immediately the entire Giant defense began yelling. They hadn’t seen us go in motion all year so it caused quite a commotion.
I motioned by Lomax not looking at Taylor, instead looking past him down field. Just as I got even with Taylor we hiked the ball and I just put my shoulder into his shins and rolled him up taking his legs out from under his body. (Only because he was not expecting it). As I lay on the ground with a smile on my face I heard a terrible roar. I looked back and saw Taylor looking at me with animal eyes. It looked like he had smoke coming out of his nose and mouth. Taylor pounded the ground and got up and started toward me.
The only thing I knew to do was run and while the play was still going on Taylor was chasing me and cussing me. I ran around and finally got behind my offensive linemen. Taylor was raging and even while we were in the huddle for the next play he was pacing and taunting and calling me out “Fox, I’m gonna get you. I’m gonna KILL you!”
The game continued and we did not run the sweep again until the 4th quarter. It was a close game and I had all but forgotten about the incident with Taylor. But low and behold, Lomax calls the sweep again. As I jogged out to line up I realized that I could not just cut his legs out again as he would be aware and jump up and crush my back. As I am debating my options I realized that he knew that I knew that I could not cut him again. So this time, as Lomax signaled for me to go in motion, and the Giants starting yelling because we had not gone in motion since the 1st quarter, I looked Taylor right in the eyes.
Taylor starred a hole through me as I motioned toward him. Smoke, again, appeared to puffed out of his nose with each breath. As I got even with him I positioned to deliver a typical block. Then right at the last second I dove to the ground. Because of his intense desire to kill me, I was able to cut him again. I heard the familiar roar but this time I did not wait and started running for dear life again. He was screaming, cussing, looking to the sky. It was like Mr. T’s rant in Rocky III.
I made my way back to the huddle feeling kind of good about myself. Taylor was again ranting and pacing and calling me out. As I leaned into the huddle though I could not believe what was coming out of Lomax’s lips. “Sweep right!” The SAME play! My linemen even laughed as they jogged to the line knowing my fate. It took forever to make it out to line up and even longer to go in motion.
As I reached Taylor this time I knew I had to block him straight up. I went back to the fundamentals. Back to everything I ever learned about blocking from Little League to the NFL. I made a good base with my feet. I got low. I exploded through my hips. And hit him with everything I had.
In the film room the next day they played back the play over and over again. I don’t know if anyone had ever been hit so hard on the line of scrimmage before. I was literally flying backward parallel to the ground in the air. It looked like cartoon. Taylor really blew me up.
When I finally landed on my back, Taylor was hovering inches from my face ranting, taunting, yelling, spitting. But as I lay there, assessing what might be broken; a smile came over my face. He killed me, but I “redirected” him. It is hard to brag about it but I went 3 for 3 against L.T.
Things might not go exactly how you planned. And sometimes you need a little luck. But, preparation gives you the best chance of success.