In 1992, I was up in Albany at what was then the New York Giants training camp, on SUNY’s campus.
It was the second day of camp. Since I had a press pass, I was able to stand on the sidelines, close to the players and to the plays. I devoted special attention to the rookies selected in that year’s draft, to see who was doing stuff in front of my eyes.
Or not doing stuff.
By that year, I was comfortable with two truths: first, that training camp would give me nearly undiluted joy and high expectations. Why not? No game had yet been played, no season record had yet been initiated. The season was at a stage of perfection.
The second truth was that rookies — especially high draft picks — usually showed what in professional football is called “promise.” That is, none of them shows particularly or consistently thrilling moves in the beginning of training camp. Back in those days when a team did not require immediate action from rookies, some of them did improve during the year, fulfilling some sort of that “promise,” but often didn’t develop into top players until the next year, or even the one after.
By that year, George Young, the Giants’ GM, and I had been friends for a few years, so mid-day I went out for lunch with him. I was telling him how I’d watched one of his top draft picks, defensive lineman Keith Hamilton, push the excellent veteran offensive tackle, William Roberts, yards off the line. This was good, especially in the early days of training camp.
I guess we talked for a minute about my second truth — how you really can’t judge new players in training camp, how it takes time for them to develop.
Out of that, I thought to ask him if there had ever been a rookie player who showed how great he was going to be in the training camp.
George nodded. “Lawrence Taylor,” he said. “How quickly?” I asked.
“The first play the first day at training camp,” he told me. Taylor had lined up, the ball was snapped…and a second later Taylor was in the backfield in quarterback Phil Simm’s face.
“Everyone froze,” George said. In a sort of fear. Until, of course, the full realization hit: Lawrence Taylor was a Giant, not an opponent. It wasn’t the Giants’ quarterbacks who’d be terrorized for the next twelve years.
Ever since George told me that story, I’ve had to wrestle with my exalted pre-season expectations for the first round draft pick. Most of the time, I succeed.