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Taylor vows to go down fighting

Somehow, this isn't the way it should end for Lawrence Taylor.

You might have missed it in Thursday's newspaper, but there beneath the screaming headlines spawned by the Lightning, the Giants, the baseball playoffs and the Bucs, came word that we are watching the final season in the intriguing career of the man they call L.T.

Surprise, perhaps, is not the obvious reaction. The best linebacker of his era has hinted at retirement ever since the New York Giants opened camp this summer. Still, Taylor almost casually made it official Wednesday, with none of the drama that we have come to expect from the NFL's all-time sack leader.

To be sure, Taylor no longer can dominate a football game the way he once could. In the first decade of his 12-year career, all 10 of which were Pro Bowl seasons, Taylor was the most disruptive presence in football. But Taylor's heart hasn't been into it since Giants coach Bill Parcells walked away in the spring of 1991. On Wednesday, he said so himself.

"I'll put it like this, I think I made a mistake coming back for another year," said Taylor, 33, who has two sacks and 23 tackles in New York's first four games. "But I'm here, and I think I'm going to have to change my attitude a little bit. I've been like, "Hey, this is my last year. Let's get it over with.' It's not really fun that way.

"This is a different team. It almost feels sometimes like it's not my fight. But I've made a promise to the rest of the players that this will become my fight. I'm not going to go down like this, and I'm not going to let the team go down like this. Nobody wants to end like this."

Indeed, football in New York is not much fun these days. At 1-3, the Giants are trying to avoid just their second losing season since 1983. Taylor, always motivated by big games and big plays, has struggled with the reality of the franchise's rebuilding phase.

"I'm quite sure after this season, no matter what happens, this team will be pretty much dismantled," he said. "Who that incorporates I'm not really sure. But I'm quite sure that will be done. So I think it's up to some older guys, myself included, to realize this might be our last hurrah. So we've got to try to get it done, and not just sit back and say . . . screw it."

No vacancy: On Wednesday, Oilers coach Jack Pardee was gesturing in a team meeting when he started experiencing pain in his neck, chest, and head. Within minutes his arms started going numb. Taken to a nearby hospital, he was examined and diagnosed with a pinched nerve in his neck.

Relieved that their coach's condition wasn't serious, a couple Oilers moved to lighten the mood, removing Pardee's nameplate from his office door. In its place they put the nameplate of receivers coach Chris Palmer. The players also propped Palmer's briefcase and jacket on Pardee's desk, and taped up a phony message from NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, congratulating Palmer on his new job.

No passing phase: If you want to disappear without a trace, move to Cleveland and become a Browns receiver. Of the three receivers currently on the Cleveland roster, only Michael Jackson (eight catches) has any receptions. The Browns, who play host to Pittsburgh this week, have gone two straight games without a receiver making a catch.

Boys will be boys: Humiliated by their team's atrocious first-half performance in last week's 30-21 loss to the Jets, Patriots Pat Harlow, Ray Agnew and Vincent Brown exploded in the locker room during halftime. In the first half, the NFL's only remaining winless team trailed 17-0, gained just 68 yards, and surrendered six sacks, equaling the Jets' season total.

"I lost it at halftime," said Harlow, a starting offensive tackle. "I went psycho. People say we suck, and then we go on national TV and suck."

Said Patriots coach Dick MacPherson: "I would be more upset if they came in after a half like they played and said, "Could I have a Coke and some ice please? It's kind of warm out there this evening.' "

It is written: Phoenix coach Joe Bugel won a game last week, but it didn't make all his problems go away. On page 11 of this year's Cardinals media guide, Bugel's three-year NFL record is listed at 13-35. Which is fine, except Bugel is in the midst of his third season. At 9-23 entering this season, Bugel, according to Cardinal clairvoyance, will finish 4-12 this year. Phoenix, at 1-3 entering today's game against the Giants, is on track.

Numbers game: It's too early to tell just how much their loss to the Colts will hurt, but statistically speaking, the Bucs lost big when they blew their shot at a 4-1 start. In the past five seasons, 26 of 30 teams starting 4-1 made the playoffs. Over the same span, only 17 of 33 teams (52 percent) starting 3-2 made the playoffs.

He's great in night games: Waived by the Bucs this preseason, Plan B cornerback Sammy Lilly interviewed last month for a job at a Georgia nuclear power plant. Before he could start work, the Rams called and signed him. His reaction? "I'm thrilled about this. I'm glowing right now."

Just call him Kramden: When the 49ers roll into Foxboro today for a date with New England, ex-Patriots defensive end Garin Veris could be the driving force. Two weeks ago, when Veris signed with the 49ers after being declared a free agent, Patriots general manager Sam Jankovich responded by saying: "You have to recognize that some people drive the bus, and some people ride on the bus. At this point in time in his career, Veris rides on the bus."

"I'm thinking of putting on my uniform and driving the team bus right down the ramp into Foxboro Stadium," Veris said. "Whether I'm riding or driving, at least I'm on a bus heading the right direction."

Parting shot: From Bears coach Mike Ditka, responding to those who criticized both his mellow early-season approach as well as last week's tirade against quarterback Jim Harbaugh: "There's a good place where they can plant their lips."

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