No ti­tle, Ja­son Tay­lor gets Hall of Fame plaque

Cape Breton Post - - Sports -

Dur­ing a half-hour in­ter­view in ad­vance of his in­duc­tion into the Pro Foot­ball Hall of Fame, Ja­son Tay­lor asks him­self the best ques­tion of all.

“Would I,” he says, “trade the Hall of Fame for a Su­per Bowl?”

Tay­lor is bound for Can­ton but never made it to an NFL ti­tle game, which still gnaws at him five years into re­tire­ment.

He played for 15 years, mostly with the Mi­ami Dol­phins, and ranks among the great­est de­fen­sive play­mak­ers in league his­tory. No player re­cov­ered more fum­bles or scored more touch­downs on fum­ble re­turns, and no line­man scored more on in­ter­cep­tion re­turns.

Even so, Tay­lor was sur­prised to be se­lected for the Hall of Fame in Fe­bru­ary.

“I didn’t think I would be a first-bal­lot guy,” Tay­lor says. “I thought the lack of a Su­per Bowl, the lack of play­off suc­cess, would come back to bite me.”

Tay­lor played from 1997 to 2011, and aside from one sea­son each with the Red­skins and Jets, he was with the Dol­phins, play­ing for seven coaches who com­bined to win three post-sea­son games - none af­ter 2000.

Tay­lor was a 36-year-old rush linebacker with the 2010 Jets when they lost to the Steel­ers

13-6 in the AFC cham­pi­onship game. That’s the clos­est he came to a Su­per Bowl.

“I still re­gret I was never able to play in one or win one,” he says. “You’re in this game to win cham­pi­onships, you know? But I didn’t earn it. We just didn’t earn it. We had some pretty good teams a few years; it wasn’t meant to be. It stinks, but it wasn’t meant to be.”

The list of Hall of Famers who never played in a Su­per Bowl is long. Among oth­ers, it in­cludes Dick Butkus, Earl Camp­bell, Eric

Dick­er­son, Deacon Jones, Mer­lin Olsen, Barry San­ders, Gale Say­ers, Lee Roy Sel­mon, O.J. Simp­son and Derrick Thomas.

Tay­lor is sur­prised to hear such es­teemed names on the list.

“Re­ally?” he says. “Wow, I never would have thought that.”

So he’s in good com­pany, and a de­fen­sive end has only so much in­flu­ence on wins and losses. But the irony is that few de­fen­sive ends had more im­pact on the score­board.

Tay­lor’s 29 op­po­nents’ fum­ble re­cov­er­ies are tied with Jim Mar­shall for the league record. His six fum­ble re­turns for a touch­down are a record. His three in­ter­cep­tions re­turned for a touch­down are tied for most among de­fen­sive line­men. And his nine touch­downs are the most by a player whose pri­mary po­si­tion was linebacker or in the de­fen­sive line.

“A lot of play­ers make plays,” for­mer Dol­phins coach Jimmy Johnson says. “Ja­son made plays that won games.”

Tay­lor was an un­der­sized line­man from the Univer­sity of Akron when Johnson picked him in the third round of the 1997 draft. As a rookie, Tay­lor says, Johnson had more faith in him than he had in him­self.

“In 1997 I thought to my­self, ‘Man, maybe the NFL is not for me,”’ Tay­lor re­calls. “Jimmy’s the guy who gave me a chance to play de­fen­sive end in the NFL at 240 pounds. Peo­ple were say­ing, ‘He’s not big enough, he’s not strong enough.’ Jimmy be­lieved in me from Day One, and showed me what it took to be suc­cess­ful in this league. That was a great foun­da­tion.”

His first NFL sack came when he tack­led Brett Favre in an ex­hi­bi­tion game. When the sea­son be­gan, Tay­lor was in the start­ing lineup.

Now, 20 years later, Johnson will present Tay­lor at the in­duc­tion cer­e­mony. What did Johnson see in a skinny No. 99 that oth­ers missed?

“I saw some of the same traits as a player I had in Dal­las who is also in the Pro Foot­ball Hall of Fame, Charles Ha­ley,” Johnson says. “Ja­son was an un­der­sized de­fen­sive end pass rusher, but he had long arms and could sep­a­rate from the block­ers and had great quick­ness.

“And Ja­son was such a smart player. In­tel­li­gent play­ers get bet­ter as they go on.”

That Tay­lor did. He made the Pro Bowl for the first time in 2000, led the league with 18 1/2 sacks in 2002, and was De­fen­sive Player of the Year in 2006.

He at­tributes his knack for big plays to hus­tle and prepa­ra­tion.

“It’s like any­thing else - look­ing for a job or try­ing to hit the lottery or what­ever it is,” he says. “You never know when that op­por­tu­nity is go­ing to present it­self.”

Tay­lor ranks sev­enth in ca­reer sacks with 139 1/2, in­clud­ing 11 1/2 of Tom Brady. The Patriots are a big rea­son Tay­lor — and lots of other play­ers — never reached a cham­pi­onship game, but he won their re­spect.

“Prob­a­bly half the rea­son he’s go­ing into the Hall of Fame is what he did against us,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick says. “He had a lot of big games against us.”

So back to the ear­lier ques­tion: Would Tay­lor trade his Hall plaque for a Su­per Bowl?

AP PHOTO

In this 2001 file photo, Mi­ami Dol­phins’ Ja­son Tay­lor scores af­ter re­cov­er­ing a New Eng­land Patriots fum­ble by quar­ter­back Tom Brady dur­ing an NFL game in Mi­ami.

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