Former New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor was one of the most talented and feared pass rushers to ever play professional football. Born on Feb. 4, 1959 in Williamsburg, VA, Taylor began his athletic career playing baseball in his youth. He eventually segued to football while a junior at Lafayette High School and took to the sport immediately. Though not heavily drafted after graduating high school in 1977, Taylor played for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he started as a defensive lineman before switching to linebacker. Right away he displayed a relentlessness on field that sometimes translated into outright recklessness, often going to great lengths to put as much pressure and pain on anyone in his way. After graduating UNC in 1980 with Player of the Year honors, he was drafted No. 2 overall by the Giants.
Excited to be playing in New York, Taylor made his presence felt from the start - usually on opposing quarterbacks - most notoriously J Theismann, whose career with the Washington Redskins was ended in 1985 when Taylor shattered his right leg in what became one of the most gruesome sacks in football history. With his gangbusters style of rushing the passer, Taylor transformed how the game was played - coaches completely changed offensive blocking schemes to accommodate his pass-rushing prowess - an often futile effort. Over the course of his 13 seasons, Taylor made the Pro Bowl 10 times, won two Super Bowl rings and was named the National Football League Defensive Player of the Year three times, including in 1986 - largely considered to be the greatest season by a defensive player in NFL history.
Despite his success on the field, Taylor had numerous problems and controversies in his private life. As early as his second year in the league, he began abusing alcohol and cocaine. By the time he reached his career peak, Taylor was spending thousands of dollars a day on his habit. Taylor failed two drug tests in 1987 and 1988, leading to a 30-day suspension and kicking the habit for the next five years. By the time he retired in 1993, Taylor had submitted again to his addictions, spending most of his time holed up in his house with sheets covering the windows and hanging out with other drug abusers. After two failed stints in rehab in 1995, Taylor was arrested the following year in South Carolina for attempted possession of crack cocaine. In 1998, Taylor eventually became clean and sober, and the following year, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Meanwhile, Taylor embarked on an acting career, which began with appearances as himself on shows like "Married With Children" (Fox, 1987-1997), "Coach" (ABC, 1989-1997), "Arli$$" (HBO, 1996-2003) and "The Sopranos" (HBO, 1999-2007). Taylor made his feature debut in "The Waterboy" (1998), before playing a fictionalized football player in Oliver Stone's "Any Given Sunday" (1999). After appearing in "Shaft" (2000) and "Mercy Streets" (2000), he had a cameo on "Las Vegas" (NBC, 2003-08), then had more substantial roles in independent thrillers like "In Hell" (2003) and "Good Chemistry" (2008). In early 2009, Taylor was named a one of 13 contestants for the eighth season of "Dancing with the Stars" (ABC, 2005- ).