Lawrence Taylor may not be the most famous or celebrated No. 98 — that honor belongs to Michigan great Tom Harmon, the 1940 Heisman Trophy, whose jersey gained new-found attention in 2013 when Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner brought it out of retirement.
Lawrence Taylor is the more famous football player, however, and he launched onto the national stage donning No. 98, now retired in Chapel Hill. With the 2016 college football season 98 days away, the former North Carolina Tar Heel checks in the CFB Huddle countdown.
No. 99: Jay Berwanger
NO. 98 LAWRENCE TAYLOR, LB, NORTH CAROLINA
Lawrence Taylor’s came up quite often in the 2015 season. Riding a resurgence under head coach Larry Fedora, North Carolina football reached heights it hadn’t since Taylor donned 98 in baby blue 35 years earlier.
He may be better known for his exploits in the No. 56 for the New York Giants. Still, Taylor powered the Tar Heels in their 1980 run to the ACC championship, the last in program history.
LT went off for 16 sacks that season, which would have edged Penn State’s Carl Nassib to lead the nation in 2015.
Taylor’s impact on Carolina’s 11-1 finish in 1980 also transcended the box score. Per the UNC media guide, LT made the game-saving defensive plays against Texas Tech and Clemson, games the Heels won by six and five points.
LT’s North Carolina coaches deserve some credit for his meteoric rise, moving him from defensive lineman early in his college to outside linebacker. The staff in Chapel Hill didn’t exactly do anything revolutionary — Taylor’s talent would eventual force someone to see his potential playing on the edge.
At the very least, however, UNC helped facilitate his rise.
He’s now the gold standard for the position, and the bar by which all pass-rushers are measured. That includes current Houston Texans and former Wisconsin Badgers defensive end J.J. Watt, a candidate to represent No. 99 in the CFB Huddle Countdown.
Taylor’s name gained renewed traction this offseason when he listed the NFL’s all-time best defenders, including both Watt and himself.