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Bruce Smith took his campaign for personal recognition to the New York City masses Wednesday, asserting that it would be a "terrible injustice" if he were not honored as the NFL's most valuable player.

Speaking by long-distance conference call, and sounding more like an office-seeker than an athlete, Smith also told a sizable gathering of New York media that he is currently a better player than the Giants' Lawrence Taylor in his prime.

Smith's public show of bravado raised a lot of eyebrows and aroused more than a few smiles. But his bold pronouncement about Taylor, long-regarded as the game's top defensive player, left a lot of people shocked and bewildered.

"I think that over the last 10 years (Taylor) has probably been the most dominant player in the league," Smith said. "I just think right now I've taken it up a notch above that.

"I can't take anything away from Lawrence. I've admired him for so many years. As a matter of fact, Lawrence grew up about 60 minutes from where I live, back in Norfolk, Va. (Taylor is from Williamsburg, Va.) He's a friend of mine. And like I said, I respect him.

"But right now, it's time to give credit to the person that really deserves it."

Certainly Smith is deserving of credit. In recent weeks, his relentless play has continued to seize the attention of fans and media around the country. The only problem, in Smith's estimation, is that he's not appreciated enough.

"Nooooo," he said without hesitation when asked if he gets enough respect. "For one reason, in Buffalo we only have one newspaper and they're against us . . . I don't think I've gotten the recognition I deserve. I don't think it's fair, but I guess it keeps you hungry."

Smith said it would be a "terrible
injustice" if he wasn't named the league's top defensive player. Later, with only slight prodding, he amended that to include the MVP award of the entire league.

The Giants players were more amused than outraged by Smith's remarks.

Taylor, who tends to accommodate the media based on his whim, sneaked out of the locker room Wednesday without discussing Smith's remarks.

The consensus among Taylor's teammates was that Bruce can say anything he wants as long as he backs it up -- which he has been doing with frightening regularity this season.

"I respect his confidence," said Giants linebacker Carl Banks. "I have to. It's like, if you've got a guy of his abilities who says he's going to get so many sacks, then you're going to have to believe him. Just like if he says it's going to rain, get your umbrella.

"I think he's a great player. I really do."

"Bruce is very strong, very fast, and very agile -- and those are his weak points," said offensive tackle Jumbo Elliott.

"Until someone can stop him," said center Bart Oates, "the man can talk all he wants. The guy's been doing it on the field, so I can't sit here and accuse him of mouthing off. As long as anybody backs it up, I can't say anything about it. The cockiness is a result of his accomplishments on the field."

Still, while the Giants defended Smith's right to speak, that doesn't mean they agreed with his premise. As far as they're concerned, Taylor's brilliant career is the standard by which today's defensive player is measured.

"LT's still the benchmark," Oates said.

"As far as outside linebackers are concerned, it's Lawrence Taylor," said safety Dave Duerson. "It has been and probably will be, even when he's retired. It's that simple. As far as defensive linemen go, it's probably Reggie White. You look at his sack production in the short time he's been in the NFL and nobody compares."

Care to tackle that one, Bruce?

"They say the film, the camera, the eye in the sky, don't lie," Smith said. "Over the last 13 games on film, I haven't seen a better defensive player in the league."

Will Smith's pregame boasting provide the Giants with a rallying point heading into the big game Saturday at the Meadowlands.

"We don't need that to be unified," said veteran defensive back Everson Walls. "I mean, if anybody had to be motivated to block a guy like Bruce Smith, I don't know what they've been looking at. Because he's been killing people every week."

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