After he got that fateful knock on his hotel room door Saturday evening, Jason Taylor texted to thank me for presenting him before the Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors and at the end of that text he said, “you had your work cut out for you and you did it. Can’t thank you enough.”
And I’m touched that Taylor was as gracious and classy as I’ve always known him to be the past 20 years that I’ve worked with him.
But with all due respect, he was wrong on this one.
Taylor, you see, was going to be a Hall of Famer way before I walked into that room with 47 other selectors Saturday morning. His case was not made by me, nervous and talking way too loud in delivering his presentation, but rather it was made years ago.
Taylor’s case was made on NFL fields all around this great land during the defensive end’s 15-year career.
He did that.
No one else.
He broke NFL records. He chased quarterbacks and other offensive players and when there wasn’t a sack to be had, he often collected a forced fumble or interception or some other game-defining play.
Jason Taylor did that.
Jason Taylor was all about that.
The reason Taylor is a first-ballot Hall of Famer now — joining Reggie White and Bruce Smith as the only pass rushers in the Top 7 to make the Hall on their first attempt — is because he made big plays and made more of them than most any other defender out there.
Taylor finished with 139 1/2 sacks in 15 seasons. No one eligible for induction into the Hall of Fame was ahead of him before Saturday evening. Multiple players who earned busts in Canton by pass rushing had fewer sacks than Taylor — notably Richard Dent, John Randle, Derrick Thomas, Lawrence Taylor and Charles Haley.
Taylor was named to the NFL’s All-Decade team for the 2000s.
That’s because from 2000 to 2009, Taylor collected 111 sacks — more than anyone during that time. So if you’re judging pass rushers, the first 10 seasons of this millennium belonged to Jason Taylor.
His decade of dominance included six Pro Bowls. He led the NFL in sacks in 2002 and was Top 5 five times. He was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2006.
“One of the great compliments I can pay him is he’s a playmaker,” first-ballot Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden said. “Only a few players find ways to make plays like that for the defense.”
Ogden was a transformational NFL left tackle. Taylor played six games against him. And in those six games Taylor had six sacks and two forced fumbles.
Taylor played three games against Hall of Fame left tackle Orlando Pace in the 2000s. He had 1 1/2 sacks.
Taylor played four regular-season games against Hall of Famer Walter Jones in the 2000s and had two sacks, a fumble recovery and a pass defensed.
Taylor was nothing if not a shock-and-awe player.
He had six fumble recoveries for touchdowns in his career. That is the most by any player at any position in NFL history.
His nine touchdowns are the most in league history by a defensive lineman or linebacker. No front-seven player ever scored more touchdowns than Jason Taylor.
“Jason was among my favorite players to watch because he had a great ability to rush the quarterback and was an underrated run stopper,” Hall of Famer Michael Strahan said. “More than that, however, he was the king of the big play.”
The strip sack’s a big play. Taylor had 39 strip sacks. No one in the Hall of Fame had that many before Saturday.
Taylor, drafted in the third round of the 1997 draft, is also a first-ballot Hall of Famer because he did more than impact games.
He touched the sport.
“He’s the fore-runner to guys like Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis,” Hall of Famer Bill Polian said. “In my mind, he set the mold. And he proved guys like him could be versatile.”
Taylor finished his career with 29 opponent fumble recoveries. That’s tied for the NFL record with Jim Marshall. No one else in the Hall has more than 24.
Oh, yes, about Bruce Smith and Reggie White. Taylor didn’t equal their sacks.
But Taylor wasn’t exactly like those generational defensive ends. He was … different.
He had four times as many interceptions as Bruce Smith. He had six times as many fumble recovery touchdowns as Smith. And three times as many passes defensed. He had three interception return touchdowns and Smith had none.
Reggie White, a hero of mine growing up because of the way he boldly represented his faith, also had more sacks than Taylor.
But, again, Taylor had more interceptions … and interception return touchdowns … and passes defensed … and forced fumbles .. and fumble recoveries … and more fumble recovery touchdowns … and more safeties.
“I’m still trying to figure out what I’m doing here,” Taylor said as he sat next to his Hall of Fame classmates LaDainian Tomlinson, Jerry Jones, Kenny Easley, Terrell Davis, Morten Andersen and Kurt Warner.
“I didn’t expect it.”
He was apparently the only one.