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Taylor won't get defensive about being voted to Hall

The player credited with redefining a position leads a class of five into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

On the field, he fought on every play with a combination of passion and athleticism that was unmatched.

Five years after his career, former Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor is still battling, but the opponents are within.

"The demons come up every day," Taylor, 40, said about his struggle against drug abuse during a recent news conference to discuss today's induction ceremonies at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. "You do the best you can with it.

"The person who says they have it under control and he knows exactly what is going to happen, really doesn't know what he is talking about. I have it under control today and, hopefully, I'll have it under control tomorrow."

Running back Eric Dickerson, tight end Ozzie Newsome and linemen Tom Mack and Billy Shaw also will be enshrined today, but Taylor is clearly the most popular and controversial member of the induction class.

His career is unquestionable: Taylor recorded 132.5 sacks, 1,088 tackles, 33 forced fumbles, 10 fumble recoveries and 9 interceptions during his 13-year career. He's heralded for revolutionizing the game as a blitzing blind-side linebacker, and analysts often say he was the greatest defensive player in the history of the game.

"I don't want to be cocky but I felt I was a man playing with boys," Taylor said. "I really did, because the things I felt I could do naturally, people were in awe of."

Yet a heated debate ensued before Taylor was voted into the Hall of Fame in January. His off-the-field problems, which included two drug-related arrests after his retirement in 1993, were his biggest obstacle. One of the arrests occurred in October at a St. Pete Beach hotel.

Several panelists didn't vote for the man considered the prototype for the modern linebacker because of the problems. Some continue to criticize Taylor as a poor role model.

"There is no question that he was the greatest linebacker to ever play the game," former NFL coach and CNN/SI analyst Ron Meyer said. "However, his terrific play will always be tainted by his off-the-field troubles. The bottom line is, yes, he should be inducted into the Hall of Fame. But the cloud will always be there."

Others insist there should be no question about Taylor's induction. ESPN analysts Joe Theismann and Tom Jackson favor his inclusion among the NFL's greatest. So does former All-America linebacker Trev Alberts.

"If moral character and judgment were taken into consideration, I think many of the Hall of Famers would be questioned now," Alberts said. "The media has become so involved in publicizing every athlete's indiscretion. The reality is that the Hall of Fame was set up for people who deserve to be recognized for playing great football.

"I don't care what he did off the field. He changed the game. Every guy, including me, wanted to play like him on the field."

Shortly after the January vote, Taylor called those who questioned his induction old phonies not fit to judge him, but now he says he's more mellow about the situation.

"We do things in packages as far as life goes: high school ball, college ball, you want to get in the pros, make All-Pro and finally you want to be in the Hall of Fame," Taylor said. "That has finally happened. I have a complete package."

Newsome also has the complete packages, and should draw considerable attention from Ohio natives with the Cleveland Browns' rebirth just two days away.

A converted receiver from Alabama, Newsome played from 1978 to 1990 for the Browns, becoming the leading tight end in NFL history with 662 receptions for 7,980 yards and 47 touchdowns.

Although he joins a long list of Browns greats in the Hall, Newsome may hear a few boos from fans because he departed the city with the original Browns after the 1995 season and remains the Baltimore Ravens vice president of player personnel.

"I expect some of that and I'm fine with it as long as it doesn't affect my wife, Gloria, and my son, Michael," Newsome told Cleveland's Plain Dealer. "As a player, you learn to deal with the booing."

Mack, a Cleveland native, will make the audience happy. He played 13 seasons for the Los Angeles Rams, never missing a regular-season game and earning Pro Bowl honors 11 times.

Dickerson also will add to the Rams in the Hall. One of the greatest running backs to ever play, Dickerson amassed 13,259 yards and 90 touchdowns from 1983 to '93.

Shaw was a standout linemen for the Buffalo Bills from 1961 to '69. He is the first person who played solely in the old American Football League to be inducted.

_ Information from Times wires was used in this report.