For my best friend Corey and I, the game of choice was Tecmo Bowl. Featuring only four offensive plays, the game often came down to choosing the best star. I would always be the Raiders because of Bo Jackson. Corey would always been the Giants because of Lawrence Taylor.
Since Taylor could block every field goal or extra point the other team attempted, Corey's strategy usually worked.
I guess that's when I really became conscious of LT, but it grew from there. When I was a fifth or sixth grader, I wrote and essay about him being one of the most dominant defensive forces of all time. His amazing rookie year, two Super Bowls, Joe Theisman -- it's all part of the legend.
I guess you could consider LT one of my childhood heroes.
At the same time, I always understood him to be extremely flawed as a role model. His struggles with cocaine addiction and countless run-ins with the law were also part of the deal. You might want to play football like LT, but you should never dream of living like him.
Even with his checkered past, this morning's news about LT was a new low. I was on the couch, half asleep, when "SportsCenter" returned from commercial with breaking news. By the simple tone of the anchor's voice, I knew I needed to open my eyes. I figured someone had passed away.
And there it was: LT had been arrested for the rape of a 16-year-old girl. 16!
He had lived a relatively quiet life of golf and Nutri System commercials in recent years, so this was a mild surprise. Really, though, with a look at the past, I can only say that I was extremely upset, not one bit shocked.
It got me thinking about heroes and role models. I realized it wasn't guys like LT who were my role models. I had my parents for that.
I had coaches like Jerry High and Scot Evens. They never made me into a good baseball player or swimmer, but they taught me about responsibility at teamwork.
There was my preacher Don Williams, who has been serving my hometown for more than 30 years now.
There were also teachers, police officers and firefighters (like my dad and brother).
I guess this is why I turned out OK, even when LT and Darryl Strawberry were among my generation's sports heroes. At least in my case, the athletes weren't the real role models.
Charles Barkley was right in that commercial all those years ago. He was never my role model.
I think this is why we should temper our indignation with guys like Tiger Woods when they make mistakes. Ultimately, it's not the athletes or musicians or actors who make the real difference -- it's those of us with whom kids have contact day by day.