Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.
Lawrence Taylor is 54 now, too old to help the Giants' sputtering pass rush, but young enough to live several more decades, ideally healthy both inside and out.
So I asked him the other night what he hopes to do with the next 30 years of his life. "Thirty years?" he said. "In 30 years I will probably have been dead for 10 years."
Taylor did not seem to be joking, and three hours later, after watching "LT: The Life & Times," it was evident why the Hall of Fame linebacker might be a tad pessimistic about his life expectancy.
The man played hard and has lived hard, leaving a path of destruction on and off the field. That reality is conveyed in blunt terms in the documentary, narrated by Jon Bon Jovi, which premieres at 8 Friday night on Showtime. So much so that after a screening Tuesday night, Taylor appeared shell-shocked.
"I was just waiting for y'all to get off the bad ---- ," he said after seeing the film for the first time. "It seemed like it went on forever, like wow, it was that bad."
Later, tearing up, he said, "To see your life through the eyes of others, man . . . That's hard to handle. It's very humbling. I really apologize to the people that I harmed, especially my kids."
Despite an A-list group of talking heads that includes Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick and even Oliver Stone, the stars are LT's close friend Dino Kyriacou, and especially his ex-wife, Linda Garrett, and grown children, who chronicle the ups and downs of life with Taylor in starkly honest terms.
It was those interviews that hit home most for Taylor.
"He admitted he never even thought about what his kids went through," Mark Lepselter, his longtime friend and agent, said after discussing the film with Taylor on Wednesday.
Lepselter said Taylor noted that his children came along just at the time he was transforming from Lawrence Taylor into a reckless football superhero named LT, a process that only recently has returned him to his original Lawrence persona.
"He said, 'The kids never had a chance,' " Lepselter said.
Taylor says he has not used drugs since the late 1990s, and his life appeared to be on the mend until an incident in 2010 that eventually led to him pleading guilty to sexual misconduct for having sexual intercourse with a 16-year-old whom he said he believed to be a 19-year-old prostitute.
Lepselter recalled the scene after Taylor's arraignment on the original charges. "Lawrence is the toughest guy I've ever known, and he lost it that day emotionally," Lepselter said. "I've never felt worse for someone."
Since then, Taylor has continued to work on himself. He said he gave up alcohol about five months ago.
"I've never seen him better," Lepselter said. "He's not moody anymore . . . With no alcohol, he's a pleasant guy to speak with. He looks better. It's an amazing evolution over the past couple of years."
The best thing in Taylor's life appears to be the 7-year-old son, Mali, he adopted with his current wife, Lynette. Mali's impact on him was the only subject that caused him to break down emotionally on camera in the documentary.
Still, Taylor understands that not everyone will find him likable or even forgivable. Other than family and friends, he insisted he does not much care how people judge him.
Lepselter said Taylor has no regrets about participating in the film, but he was reluctant initially. He recalled telling director Pete Radovich, Jr., "Hell, no. My closet is full. A lot of people have ghosts in their closet, but my closet has closets."
Once he sat down, it was documentary gold. "I've been dealing with athletes for 15 years, from tennis to the Olympics to the NFL," Radovich said. "I can say without question he is the most honest, forthcoming athlete I've ever met in my life. There's no sugarcoating anything."
After the screening Taylor and fellow former Giants star Michael Strahan shared a long embrace.
"Even going through a lot of things he's gone through, he's always been so good to me," Strahan said. "I told him he has no idea how important he was for me in my career and even now."
The film also documents Taylor's exploits as arguably the greatest defensive player in the history of football.
The punctuation on that point arrives in the final, memorable line of the movie -- one I would not be allowed to share in print even if I wanted to.
Clean translation: He was really, really good. But that's all football history now. The man formerly known as LT has a life to live as plain old Lawrence Taylor.
"As good as I was on the field is how devastating or destructive I was off the field," he said. "But it's a story that has a good ending to it. I just want everyone to know I'm at a place in my life now where I'm truly happy."
That was why after he said he doubted he would make it to 2043, he added he would be at peace whatever the future brings. "If the Lord was to take me right now," Taylor said, "I could say, you know what, I had a good run."