Miami Dolphins’ Jason Taylor voted into Hall of Fame in first year of eligibility

Jason Taylor was enshrined in the Dolphins Honor Roll in 2012. (Bill Ingram/Palm Beach Post)

Jason Taylor was enshrined in the Dolphins Honor Roll in 2012. (Bill Ingram/Palm Beach Post)

Jason Taylor, the Dolphins’ all-time sack leader, was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday in his first year of eligibility.

“To say that I’m elated is an understatement,” Taylor said. “This whole experience has been humbling, but today, to get that knock on the door and be welcomed into the most sacred and prestigious fraternity in our game? I’m almost at a loss for words.”

Taylor, 42, had brought his 14- and 12-year-old sons to Houston for Super Bowl week festivities, which included the Hall vote.

“To share this moment with my sons has made me as proud and as honored as I’ve ever been. ‘Dad! You’re in the Hall of Fame!’ It just doesn’t get any better than that,” Taylor said.

SEE WHAT NFL GREATS ARE SAYING ABOUT TAYLOR MAKING THE HALL

The reality that he was on the brink of football immortality seemed to hit Taylor during an NFL luncheon on Friday that he attended with his sons. Taylor said he was moved while listening to Hall of Famer Jackie Slater addressing the attendees about getting to watch his son, Matthew, play in Sunday’s Super Bowl for the New England Patriots against the Atlanta Falcons.

“I turned to my sons and was like, ‘You know what? One day it’s going to be you guys and I’ll hopefully be sitting up there in a jacket talking about you guys playing in the Super Bowl and being in Pro Bowls and all that,’ ” Taylor said.

Taylor’s selection completed a meteoric rise for the Dolphins’ 1997 third-round pick (73rd overall) out of Akron. His initial arrival in Davie sparked a long-running debate over whether he was too lanky and too light (250 pounds) to play defensive end in the NFL, but 139 1/2 sacks later, no one questions it.

“Trace Armstrong told me to stop worrying about the weight and all of a sudden it was like, ‘You know what? Let’s prove everyone wrong. Let’s just kind of change the way it’s done a little bit if we can,’ ” Taylor said, referring to his former teammate at defensive end.

Pro football had not been a lifelong dream of Taylor’s, let alone making the Pro Football Hall of Fame. If he ever had any dreams of any Hall of Fame, it might have been basketball’s.

“I wanted to play in the NBA,” said Taylor, who is 6-feet-6.

Not that he was complaining Saturday night.

“More than anything, I’m just grateful,” Taylor said. “I’m grateful for those who believed in me throughout my journey, for the Miami Dolphins, New York Jets and Washington Redskins for giving me the opportunity to do what I loved, for so many great coaches I worked with, and most importantly, I’m grateful for the talented and selfless teammates I had the honor of playing along side for 15 years. Without those guys, today just doesn’t happen.”

Tributes to Taylor came from near and far.

Referring to his work with the Jason Taylor Foundation, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said, “Jason’s on-field dominance left an impact on the Dolphins’ defense that may never be equaled. But when I got to know him, I found he was an even better person who truly cared not only about his team, but also his community. He has been an outstanding ambassador for his sport, for the Dolphins, and for all of South Florida.”

Patriots coach Bill Belichick said, “I coached more games against Jason Taylor than any other player in my career and I’m sure he was probably the one who ruined the most games.”

Former QB Peyton Manning: “From a protection standpoint, we always knew where he was and we were always going to factor him in every time that we were dropping back to pass.”

The consensus had been it was a matter of when, not if, Taylor would make the Hall. Taylor had said Friday that making it on the first ballot would be an honor, but after seeing Michael Strahan have to wait one year to get in, it “kind of tempers my expectations.”

“Jason truly deserved to be a first ballot Hall of Famer,” said Zach Thomas, the former Dolphins Pro Bowl linebacker and Taylor’s brother-in-law. “I never saw anyone disrupt an offense like Jason, and I never saw anyone more competitive. He was a great teammate who demanded the most out of everyone he played with and made each of them a better player. That’s truly the mark of a Hall of Famer.”

In the end, Taylor became a first-ballot honoree just like Don Shula, Nick Buoniconti, Jim Langer, Dan Marino and Paul Warfield. In all, there soon will be 10 Dolphins in the Hall of Fame, excluding honorees who briefly were part of the team.

Other members of the Class of 2017 are Terrell Davis, Morten Andersen, Kenny Easley, LaDainian Tomlinson, Kurt Warner and Jerry Jones.

The enshrinement ceremony will be Aug. 5. For ticket information, visit the Hall’s site or call (844) 751-0532.

Highlights of Taylor’s resume

• 3 All-Pro selections

• 6 Pro Bowl selections

• 9 non-offensive touchdowns (NFL record)

• 29 fumble recoveries

• 6 fumble returns for touchdowns (NFL record)

• 246 fumble return yards (fourth all-time)

• 3 safeties

• 2 interception returns for touchdowns

• Defensive player of the year (2006)

• Walter Payton Man of the Year (2007)

• 2000s All-Decade team

Taylor celebrates a sack of the Houston Texans' Matt Schaub in 2011. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

Taylor celebrates a sack of the Houston Texans’ Matt Schaub in 2011. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

A few of Jason Taylor’s greatest hits

More than a bit outrageous: Jason Taylor was the NFL’s defensive player of the year in 2006 — an impressive accomplishment, certainly. But did you remember that the honor came despite the Dolphins going 6-10? How much does a player have to stand out to win such an award while on a six-win team? Just consider Nov. 19, 2006, when Taylor didn’t think he was having a decent game against Minnesota. “I’m about to do something outrageous,” Taylor told one official. “What?” the zebra said. Taylor repeated the claim … and a minute later, he intercepted a Brad Johnson screen pass and returned it 51 yards for the winning touchdown. “Did your guy just say what I think he said?” one official asked Taylor’s brother-in-law, linebacker Zach Thomas.

His true value, for all to see: During a 2006 game against Jacksonville, Taylor missed 10 plays while getting his arm X-rayed (the pictures came back negative). When Taylor left the game, the Dolphins were up 7-3. When Taylor returned, they were down 17-7.

“It was a bit different game,” Taylor said after the 24-10 loss.

Rx for Rex, four-game losing streak: The Dolphins were 1-6 and 13 1/2-point underdogs for a 2006 game against the undefeated Chicago Bears, who hadn’t lost at home in a year. Taylor had a 20-yard pick-six against Rex Grossman for a quick 14-3 lead. He followed with a strip-sack on Grossman to reach the 100-sack mark in his career. The Dolphins won 31-13.

He blocked a field-goal try the next week, a 13-10 victory over Kansas City, as Miami was halfway through a four-game winning streak after having lost four straight.

NFL sack leaders and waiting period to enter the Hall of Fame

    Player                Sacks       Wait     Enshrined

1. Bruce Smith        200            1st         2009

2. Reggie White      198            1st         2006

3. Chris Doleman   150 1/2      8th         2012

4. Michael Strahan 141 1/2      2nd        2014

5. Jason Taylor       139 1/2       1st          2017

6. John Randle       137 1/2     2nd        2010

7. Richard Dent      137 1/2     9th         2011

Hall of Fame Dolphins

Don Shula               Coach        1997

Nick Buoniconti     LB             2001

Larry Csonka          FB            1987

Bob Griese               QB            1990

Jim Langer               C              1987

Larry Little               G              1993

Dan Marino              QB           2005

Dwight Stephenson C             1998

Paul Warfield           WR          1983

Note: Other Hall of Famers who briefly were part of the Dolphins’ organization were WR Cris Carter (enshrined in 2013), coach/executive Bill Parcells (2013), LB Junior Seau (2015), RB Thurman Thomas (2007).

Jason Taylor’s official Hall of Fame bio

JASON TAYLOR

Defensive End … 6-6, 260 … Akron … 1997-2007, 2009, 2011 Miami Dolphins, 2008 Washington Redskins, 2010 New York Jets … 15 seasons, 233 games … Drafted in 3rd round (73rd overall) by Dolphins in 1997 NFL Draft … Registered double-digit sack total in a season six times over an eight-year span (2000-07) … Earned NFL Defensive Player of the Year in Honors in 2006 after recording 13.5 sacks, two interceptions returned for TDs (20 yards vs. Bears and 51 yards vs. Vikings), 11 passes defensed, 10 forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 62 tackles … Returned fumble career-long and team-record 85 yards for TD vs. Broncos, Sept. 11, 2005 … Led NFL with career-high 18.5 sacks, 2002 … Recorded more sacks than any player in NFL from 2000-2011 … Career statistics: 139.5 sacks; 8 interceptions for 110 yards and 3 TDs; league record-tying 29 opponents’ fumbles recovered; NFL record 6 TDs on fumble recoveries; and 3 safeties (two with Dolphins, one as a member of Jets) … Voted to six Pro Bowls … Named first-team All-Pro in 2000, 2002 and 2006 … All-AFC four times (2000, 2002, 2004, 2006)… Picked as Dolphins Most Valuable Player four times … Named to NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 2000s … Born September 1, 1974 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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