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Head held high, Taylor enters Hall

The linebacker reaches immortality with Ozzie Newsome, Eric Dickerson, Billy Shaw and Tom Mack.

It was the controversy no one would mention, the issue no one would acknowledge.

For the first 2{ hours of Saturday's Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremonies, no reference was made to the off-field problems attached to the on-field greatness of Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor.

Four other honorees _ Cleveland tight end Ozzie Newsome, prolific running back Eric Dickerson and linemen Billy Shaw and Tom Mack _ gave thanks to family and friends and praise to coaches and fans. Then Lawrence Taylor Jr. stepped forward to present his father, the man many call the game's greatest defensive player, and the best of the quintet enshrined this year.

No one would have faulted the young Taylor for omitting words about his father's problems, which include two drug arrests, but he cut to the heart of the issue much like Taylor used to cut through offensive lines.

"When I reached my teens and I read about all his accomplishments on the field and mishaps off the field, it helped me know, love and respect my father even more," said Taylor Jr., a 17-year-old high school senior who lives in Charlotte, N.C. "Those stories made me understand why people admired him so much. Surely, I admire him too, not because of LT the football player, but because of Lawrence Taylor, my father.

"I admire my father because he's never one not to admit when he's done something wrong, and even though it's never reported, he does many things right."

Applause interrupted the presentation. The nearly 4,000 attending showed they approved of Taylor's induction, which came despite protests from some who said his off-field behavior made him unworthy.

Taylor had bet former coach Bill Parcells he wouldn't cry during the ceremonies, but he conceded the short but emotion-filled speech from his son almost brought tears to his eyes. Like Junior, Taylor mentioned the troubles he has encountered since retiring in 1993.

"I'd like to thank my kids for understanding that people do make mistakes in life, and somehow they have the ability to forgive me and love me anyway," said Taylor, who recorded 132.5 sacks from 1981-93. "Life, like anything else, can knock you down, it can turn you out _ you'll have problems every day in your life. But sometimes you just gotta go play.

"No matter how many times it knocks you down, no matter how many times you think you can't go forward, no matter how many times things just don't go right, anybody can quit, but a Hall of Famer never quits. A Hall of Famer realizes that the crime is not being knocked down, the crime is not getting up again."

The four who joined Taylor in the Class of '99 wove different themes into their speeches.

Newsome made constant references to the rebirth of the Browns, which takes place Monday when the expansion team plays Dallas here at Fawcett Stadium.

Dickerson, who holds the single-season rushing record with 2,105 yards, made it clear he regretted contract disputes that shadowed his illustrious career. He said he had made peace with John Shaw, the Rams general manager who traded him to Indianapolis, and Jim Irsay, the Colts owner who dealt with Dickerson's unhappiness in the twilight of his career.

In the most lighthearted moment of the day, Dickerson began by asking Shaw's wife, Pat, to stand up and be acknowledged because Shaw had mistakenly forgotten to thank her. Shaw, who spent nine seasons with Buffalo in the 1960s, dropped to both knees on the stage in mock regret, while his wife shook her finger at him in playful disgust.

Shaw, the first inductee whose entire career took place in the American Football League, said his inclusion was for all the players who helped the fledgling league succeed.

Mack, the Rams lineman (1966-78) inducted in his final year of eligibility as a modern-day player, urged voters to consider other great linemen of his era, such as Dallas' Rayfield Wright and Minnesota's Mick Tingelhoff.

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