CANTON, Ohio — Jason Taylor has two handkerchiefs ready to stuff in his pockets, because he knows one won’t be enough to sop up the mess he’ll turn into Saturday night.
He’s recovering from losing his voice last week but jokes that the closed-captioning folks should stand ready.
His phone is blowing up, but he hasn’t had time to check messages for two days.
“I pride myself on kind of being a cool, calm and collected guy and I’m OK in any situation,” Taylor said, “but I’m nervous as hell.”
This is what life is like when you’re entering the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Surreal? A few snapshots will tell you just how surreal these few days are for Taylor, the Dolphins’ third-round draft pick in 1997 who now owns a gold jacket:
• As a Western Pennsylvania guy, Taylor still finds himself staring when in the presence of Joe Namath. Friday, his childhood idol, Joe Greene, asked for Taylor’s autograph. When Charles Haley did, too, Taylor wondered “why the hell they want my autograph. I wanted theirs, but I was too shy to ask.”
• As President Donald Trump assembles his staff of U.S. ambassadors, he might want to consider Taylor, who by asking Jimmy Johnson to present him for induction helped broker peace in the football world. Johnson, who drafted Taylor, had never been to the Hall before Friday morning, when he came face to face with his friend/nemesis/who-knows-what Jerry Jones, who also is being inducted.
“I gave him a hug and we started talking,” Taylor said of Johnson. “He was a heckuva lot more popular in the room than I was. Everybody came in and was saying hi to Jimmy. Then Jerry came in and they shared a moment.”
• Taylor, 42, is having his own share of poignant moments. He cried while trying to make a toast at his family’s dinner Thursday night. He reflected on playing his college career at Akron, 20 minutes away, all the while never imaging being in this position.
“I thought I would have to pay to come in,” he said.
Taylor is planning for about 300 guests at his after-party that will stretch deep into Sunday morning at Akron’s football stadium. Supporters making the trip include current Dolphins Cameron Wake, Mike Pouncey and John Denney. An extremely notable absence will be ex-Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas, whose sister, Katina, had been married to Taylor before their bitter divorce two years ago.
It would have been unthinkable during their playing days that Taylor would enter the Hall without Thomas being present. They entered the Dolphins’ Honor Roll together.
With 139 1/2 career sacks, a knack for game-winning plays and a style that forced Dolphins opponents to game-plan against him, Taylor’s entry into the Hall was a forgone conclusion. By going in on the first ballot, Taylor surprised himself, having wondered if he’s in the even-more-elite class of a Bruce Smith or a Reggie White.
“He’s in our class,” Smith said. “A phenomenal pass rusher.”
Smith, White and Taylor helped revolutionize the game in their own way. Taylor lasted until the 73rd overall pick. Who would want a defensive end who was a rail-thin 240 pounds?
“Nobody in the league wanted a tweener,” Taylor said. “Now they call them hybrids and everybody in the league wants hybrids and hybrids get a lot of money.”
Of course, when Taylor was first fitted for his gold jacket, it was too big.
“I had to get it tailored,” he said.
Even Friday, Haley kidded Taylor: “You can’t play D at that size.”
After Johnson, one of the early believers was Taylor’s agent, the late Gary Wichard, who told him when he was drafted he’d make the Hall.
“I was about to fire him for going insane,” Taylor said.
Taylor made 131 of his career sacks for the Dolphins, interrupted only in 2008 (when he was with Washington) and 2010 (the Jets) after the Dolphins made it clear they had lukewarm interest at best. Friday, Taylor regretted he couldn’t play his entire career in Miami even though he experienced his greatest team success in New York.
“I know Dolphin fans hate to hear that,” Taylor said. “I had a great year in New York. I got to the AFC Championship Game, was a couple of plays away from having a chance to play in the big game.”
Having never experienced a Super Bowl, Taylor will have to settle for the greatest individual accomplishment in professional football. He said he’s bringing into Canton every teammate who had an influence on him, or that he influenced.
“You never forget that journey,” he said. “It’s an improbable journey. It’s an impossible journey, really, I thought. Even as I’m sitting here now as a Hall of Famer, there’s a part of me that still says it was impossible for me to get here. But it’s worked out.
“Miracles happen, kids, folks, everybody out there. Miracles happen, because if I’m sitting here as a Hall of Famer, you can do anything in the world you want.”
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