Watch out, Canton.
Jason Taylor is coming to town next week, and he’s bringing all of his rowdy friends
A who’s-who of past and present Dolphins greats will be on hand to watch Taylor enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame next Saturday.
Here’s the (incomplete) list of past Miami luminaries invited by Taylor: defensive tackles Tim Bowens and Larry Chester, defensive end Trace Armstrong, corners Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain, safety Shawn Wooden, tight end Troy Drayton, tackle Todd Wade, receivers Brian Hartline, Oronde Gadsden and O.J. McDuffie. (Taylor did not mention linebacker Zach Thomas, his brother-in-law, but that could have simply been an oversight.)
At least three current Dolphins have been excused from training camp to attend: defensive end Cameron Wake, center Mike Pouncey and long snapper John Denney.
Ex-Dolphins (and Hurricanes) coach Jimmy Johnson wouldn’t miss it. He’ll introduce Taylor on the big stage. (Taylor, one of seven inductees, will give his speech second on Aug. 5, after safety Kenny Easley.)
Throw in the franchise’s many Hall of Famers — Don Shula, Dan Marino and Bob Griese, to name a few — who are invited every year to the induction ceremony, and Northeast Ohio will be awash in aqua and orange in early August.
“There’s going to be a great representation of guys,” Taylor said during a national conference call Wednesday. “And that’s the most important thing for me. Outside of my family, really outside of my family I wanted to make sure the closest people to me, the guys that had the biggest part in me being there were there to share it with me. And with the teammates being there, that’s great.”
Learning that he’d made the cut back in February was a thrill of a lifetime for Taylor.
Sitting for his Hall of Fame bust was probably a bit surreal.
But Taylor didn’t have his big, ‘Can you believe this?’ moment until March.
“Going up there as an inductee, as a Class of 2017 inductee in March for your site visit, you start to see where you’re going to be and get more of a feel of, ‘Hey, I’m actually going in this place,’” Taylor said. “Those moments make it more real.”
But he’s got plenty of people to keep him grounded, like the roughly 100 college teammates who have RSVP’d to his enshrinement night party. Taylor, just the second MAC player to make the Hall, played his college ball some 20 miles away at the University of Akron. Many will make the short drive to support their most famous alumnus.
If it seems like Taylor is enjoying the moment, it’s because he is. But what do you expect from a guy who few thought would last long in the NFL, let alone become one of his generation’s most irrepressible forces.
Taylor, who entered the league 240 pounds soaking wet, shocked the skeptics by recording 139 1/2 sacks, seventh-most in NFL history.
“The gratification is there, obviously having come this far, making the Hall,” Taylor said. “When I came in in ’97, it wasn’t en vogue to be a 240-pound, 245-pound defensive end. There weren’t a whole lot of guys out there. It was kind of unheard of. There was a lot of questions as to whether I could survive and thrive at that weight.”
Instead, he helped revolutionize the game. No one batted an eye when the Dolphins selected Charles Harris — all of 253 pounds — 22nd overall this year. Taylor’s success helped teams see 4-3 defensive ends in a different light.
As the years went on, and Taylor’s sack total grew, many begin to speculate that he would some day be given a gold jacket with football’s other immortals. By the second half of the last decade, the chatter had grown loud enough for Taylor to hear.
But Taylor insisted that was never his driving motivation.
“You don’t really focus on it,” he said. “A lot of the positive things that I would read and hear in the media, I would ignore. I would pay more attention to the negative things to kind of see what was out there. It’s kind of a twisted way of thinking, but it never really became … it was never the goal. It was never something I was shooting for and focusing on.
“It was always kind of in the periphery until you retire and you look back and say, hey, maybe there’s a shot,” he added.