Spagnola: Micah Destined To Raise Up LT

Spagnola--Micah-Destined-To-Raise-Up-LT-hero

FRISCO, Texas – Forty years ago, April 28, 1981, at the New York Sheraton, the New York Football Giants, with the second pick in the National Football League Draft, selected linebacker Lawrence Taylor, University of North Carolina.

With the second pick now, a linebacker, you know, "LT" earning Pro Football Hall of Fame distinction during his illustrious 13-year career with the Giants, wreaking havoc on NFL offenses along the way. Became the 1986 Most Valuable Player in the NFL, his 20.5 sacks that year helping the Giants to the Super Bowl XXI title.

How now, 40 years later, with the 12th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Cowboys select Micah Parsons, linebacker, Penn State, who after just 13 games of his rookie year is waking up the memory of LT. And fittingly he will be playing those same Giants with the name of Lawrence Taylor hovering overhead in the franchise's Ring of Honor at MetLife Stadium Sunday afternoon.

"He is arguably the best defensive player to ever play football," says Parsons, all of 22, of Taylor. "Very dominant. Fast."

Looked him up. Watched his highlights.

"He was way before me," Parsons of course says, drawing a little laughter from his innocence.

Yeah, way before. LT retired after the 1993 season. He is now 62. Parsons was born May 26, 1999. LT, Feb. 4, 1959.

But not the 40-year age difference nor Taylor's rookie year accomplishments have dulled the memory of those of us privileged to have watched him play that year at the tender age of, uh, 22.

So far in 13 games this season, with 12 sacks, 58 tackles, 10 tackles for losses, 31 QB pressures, three forced fumbles, two passes defensed and having the knack for emerging with big plays at crucial times, Parsons definitely is the top candidate to win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. And many now are wondering if the 6-3, 246-pounder keeps up this pace through the final four regular season games and maybe into the playoffs that just maybe he wins the NFL Defensive _Player_ of the Year, too.

Cue Lawrence Taylor, the first and only NFL player to achieve that honorable double.

Thus, the comparisons, though Parsons demurs, saying he is flattered by them, but that "to be compared to a Hall of Famer so early on, I mean it's not ready to be in the conversation. I still have a long way to go.

"He had 142 (career sacks), I've got 130 more to go before we start saying that was LT."

See there, Parsons has done his homework. Google is a great thing. According to the Giants media guide, Taylor's rookie numbers looked like this, and remember, this is prior to the NFL officially recognizing sacks in until 1982 or the league tracking individual tackles.

Sacks: 9.5.

Tackles: 133, 94 solo, 39 assists.

Taylor also joins Minnesota defensive tackle Alan Page (1971) as the only defensive players to win the NFL's Most Valuable Player Award since it's 1957 inception.

But the rookie comparisons so far are merited, although Taylor was just an outside linebacker, where Parsons is, well, as I've coined a _football player_, part strongside linebacker, part middle linebacker, part defensive end, part edge rusher, part rusher standing in the middle and, oh, can get in coverage, too.

But how about these coincidences?

Start with Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, so grateful to have this defensive toy to, well, toy offenses with. Quinn grew up in Morristown, N.J., about 20 miles west of Manhattan. Pro football was it at that time in his part of the country.

"My first love of football was in New Jersey and watching the Giants play," said Quinn, born Sept. 11, 1970.

So, Quinn turned 11 Taylor's rookie season.

"LT was my favorite player, there's no doubt about it," he says. "Had the poster on the wall, the whole thing, so yeah, if you were a young kid growing up, (the Giants) defense was pretty rugged back then. … LT was just a guy who changed the game so much."

And now he's coaching the guy who is changing this Cowboys defense so much, jostling the memories of LT and his rare rookie accomplishments, much the way Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs' nine interceptions are reminding Hall of Fame voters of Cowboys/Giants cornerback Everson Walls' rare feat of 11 interceptions in his, uh, rookie year of 1981 that no NFL player has eclipsed since, though Diggs breathing right down "Cubby's" neck for the Cowboys' single-season franchise record.

Here is another coincidence, and not to be self-serving, but have told a few times since. Prior to this year's NFL Draft most everyone was insisting the Cowboys, with the 10th pick, needed to select a cornerback, like Alabama's Patrick Surtain II or South Carolina's Jaycee Horn. Or maybe an offensive lineman like Oregon's Penei Sewell or Northwestern's Rashawn Slater.

But after doing my research on this Penn State linebacker wearing No. 11, Parsons was his name, and watching his highlight video, dang, was sold. The Cowboys needed this guy, Micah Parsons, even if he only played two years of college ball and hadn't played the previous year since the Big Ten initially cancelled its 2020 season for raging COVID reasons before deciding to play a reduced conference-only schedule after Parsons declared for the draft.

Just his instincts to find the football stood out. His power not to be denied. His speed to get there. His versatility, knowing he had played running back and defensive end in high school, and that prior to the draft Penn State head coach James Franklin said he was prepared to have Parsons return kickoffs that 2020 season.

Well, when saying Parsons had to be the Cowboys guy, was asked repeatedly, just where would the Cowboys play him, since they already had Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch? My response was, "On the field."

Then was told in one conversation, that you just can't draft a mere linebacker that high. My response was: "What if he's not just any ol' linebacker? What if he's like LT?" kind of the first guy who came to mind.

No lie, said it, and was told, "Oh, you really want to go there?"

Well, "what if?"

When participating in a mock draft podcast with my buddies at Giants.com, when my turn came up at No. 10, went on and on how the Cowboys needed this Parsons kid when most had the Cowboys taking a cornerback. But finally host John Schmeelk told me they didn't care so much who I wanted to select, tell us who the Cowboys will select. So, under pressure, I acquiesced, said Surtain.

And that is probably who the Cowboys would have selected, or Horn, but by the grace of the heavens above, neither was available at No. 10. So all the Cowboys did was trade down to No. 12 to simply take the No. 1 defensive player on their board, and just maybe the best player, period, in the draft, even though quarterback-needy teams could not resist taking a guy who plays the most valuable position on the roster.

Yep, Micah Parsons to the Cowboys.

Maybe this all was meant to be. Like, Parsons could have been playing his final year at Penn State this year. The Cowboys likely would have taken Surtain had he been there at No. 10. Then how perfect to have paired Parsons with Quinn, growing up a big fan of Taylor's, whose rookie record Parsons now is chasing.

Do you believe in destiny?

And now how fitting, playing the Giants, noon Sunday, with the LT comparisons flying about.

The kid can't wait.

"I feel like you either got it or you don't," Parsons says of loving to play. "It comes from inside of me. That drive I have inside of me, wanting to be great, wanting to do more, wanting more on my plate just comes with wanting to do this.

"I always talk about my destiny. I feel like I am destined to do this."

And you know what? There just might be something to this destiny stuff.

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