EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Linda Taylor stood in the runway, clutching a pair of her husband's shoes, as the New York Giants ran off the field. Black suede tassel loafers.
She had seen him for a moment at the door ofthe dressing room and waited for him to be helped to the car. She would drive.
"He can't put them on," she said of the shoes.
Players streaming off the field didn't know how bad it was. Players usually don't. They're so involved with their own jobs, they see little. They're so involved with their own mortality, they feel little for someone else.
Except for those Giants who stood over him as Lawrence Taylor screamed in pain. They quickly summoned the doctor. They stood there with a group of the respectful Green Bay Packers who knew who was hurt. That was Lawrence Taylor there.
The doctor was cutting the tape and the sock of Lawrence Taylor, placing him on the electric cart to be taken off the field, his right foot cradled in the lap of Dan Veltrie, one of the team of orthopedists.
And the crowd chanted his initials, "Ell-Tee, Ell-Tee" in tribute and perhaps in farewell.
This was the greatest football player in New York in a generation, perhaps the most significant ever in New York. He was the force of their two Super Bowl triumphs. He already had announced that he would retire at the end of this season, and now this season was cut abruptly at nine games.
Probably it's the end of the career of the man who remade the hearts of his teammates, who rebuilt the Giants, who reconstructed the template of linebacker into his own image. He could never give himself to the rehabilitation to come back as just another player.
"He was by far the greatest player I've ever coached," Bill Parcells, their Super Bowl coach, said on television.
"Ell-Tee was just Ell-Tee," said fullback Ottis Anderson, who knew Taylor as opponent, teammate and work of art. "It's a Picasso that was torn," he said.
"I'll tell you what, the guy is so talented, he set the stage for what the new linebackers were all about. He's the founder. He set the plateau that will be emulated but not duplicated."
Surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon was scheduled tomorrow -- even today if Dr. Russell Warren can fit it in. Of course the doctor could repair it; he has done it many times before. Six months of hard work and they're fit again. Except Taylor is 33 years old, and battered by 12 years of being the target.
"It tends to happen in older athletes," the doctor said. "Tendons tend to stretch less as you age."
With 1:14 left in the third quarter, Taylor put one of his rushes on Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre, reached and deflected the pass. Taylor tried to reverse his thrust to grab the ball before it touched down.
As they stood over him it looked so much like the awful moment in Washington when Joe Theismann's leg was shattered by the force of Taylor's tackle, and Taylor screamed for help at the sight of what he had wrought.
Except that there was no impact here. "Usually it's just high load and the tendon pops," Warren said. "They think somebody hit them. They look around and there's no one there."
Linebacker Pepper Johnson was one of those standing over Taylor when he screamed. "I had to run away," he said.
All week Taylor had been being Ell-Tee, Number 56, exhorting them not to back off the emotion that had carried them over the Redskins last week. Friday he called a team meeting. Yesterday he shouted through the lethargy not to wait until the third quarter to get going. He wanted this game; he wanted this season to be something better. It was to be his send-off.
"He wants to go out in style, like everybody else," said Dr. Warren, who himself had a tryout with the Giants in 1962.
Players in the clutch around Taylor are used to cries of pain. Usually, they say, it means only pain. They live with pain all the time. This time they heard Taylor cry out, "Oh, no! I don't believe it." And they knew.
For so many years they had seen Taylor take withering pain and come back into the game. The 13-12 victory at New Orleans in 1988 they remembered.
"He had a shoulder out and the other one went down," Anderson said. "They carried him off and he said, 'Strap me up.' He went back and played and we ended up winning. It was so emotional. The man had so much ability to tolerate pain."
For so many years when Lawrence Taylor spoke, the Giants responded. He was the heartstrings of this team and Parcells played them like a violin. He'd shout at Taylor and Taylor would absorb it, and the others knew if the coach could be so furious at Ell-Tee, nobody was safe.
"Him and Parcells had a special relationship," Anderson said. "Watching it was unique, different. They had their fights like husband and wife. They had their bond.
"They played to each other. Parcells knew how to turn Lawrence Taylor on and how to turn him off. And Lawrence Taylor knew how to press his buttons, too. Lawrence Taylor was his prima donna."
He was their player. Center Bart Oates called the loss "devastating."
Lawrence Taylor wasn't the player who devastated games anymore. The Giants have to replace him now instead of in August.
What he had done was leave giant footprints on all of them. He was a Giant; he was a giant. That's what they felt yesterday.