Jason Taylor gave up on the graceful exit a long time ago.
A member of the NFL’s All-Decade team for the 2000s, Taylor hung around the NFL 15 years, accepting supporting roles the past few seasons because he could still contribute and because he never wants to leave the locker room.
More than the games on Sundays, it’s the locker-room atmosphere that keeps the greats hanging around. And on the day he announced his retirement from the NFL, Taylor admitted he was no exception.
“For the last 15 years, I’ve been part of a fraternity. There’s no place like an NFL locker room,” said Taylor, who announced on Wednesday that Sunday’s game against the Jets will be his last.
“These guys become your family.”
Where else can Taylor school a Pro Bowl receiver like Brandon Marshall on the finer points of dominoes, or teach Jared Odrick how to make a delicious cappuccino with the machine that sits inside his locker?
Where else can he find a room full of men hanging on his every word?
“He’s taught us all a lot,” Odrick said. “Come every day and be a professional. Handle your business, handling football as a business. Conduct yourself with a certain manner. When you look at JT’s (career), that’s something you strive for.
“To be in the league this long, to be successful and to have that type of respect is something you definitely strive for.”
The fantasies of becoming Mr. Hollywood, starring in movies, have vanished for Taylor. All that’s left these days are family and football, and the two are entangled. At least they are until Sunday, when he’ll begin the next chapter in his life.
“Nothing is going to replace professional football,” Taylor said. “You can’t find it on the golf course. You can’t find it anywhere.”
South Florida is his home, and the Miami Dolphins are his family. He married the sister of his former Dolphins running mate, linebacker Zach Thomas, and he and Katina have three children together.
It’s unrealistic to think he’ll distance himself from the Dolphins, South Florida or the game. But Taylor felt it was time both he and the organization moved on.
Despite the team’s 5-10 record, Taylor’s comfortable with the final chapter in his accomplished career, which featured this third-round pick becoming a six-time Pro Bowl selection and the 2006 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, not having a fairy tale ending.
“I wanted to make a practice squad in 1997. I was just so happy to be in the league and have an opportunity to play and come down and play with a team with Dan Marino and Zach Thomas and all the guys that were around then,” Taylor said in an interview earlier this season. “I would have never thought 15 years later I’d still be sitting here.”
His goal this season was to pass New York Giants Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor on the all-time sack list so he can have bragging rights on the golf course. He’s got that, thanks to his 139.5 sacks, which is the sixth-highest total since the NFL began counting the statistic in 1982.
Taylor’s pushing Michael Strahan for fifth all-time and needs two sacks to tie the former Giants pass-rushing demon, who wrecked games like he once did.
Coincidentally, Strahan’s up for Hall of Fame consideration in 2013, and it’s possible his induction could hint at Taylor’s chances considering they were the premier pass rushers of their era.
“It would be an honor,” Taylor said. “We all play this game to play it at the highest level. To be recognized for your efforts at the highest level, and that obviously being the Hall of Fame would be fantastic.”
According to Jets coach Rex Ryan, who coached him last season, Taylor’s “a no-brainer Hall of Fame player.”
“What a guy. He was a phenomenal teammate here,” Ryan said. “We only had him the one year, yet he affected the team so positively.”
The Dolphins, and South Florida, can say the exact same thing about the most-accomplished Dolphins player since Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino.
“If there’s one regret that I have, it’s that I didn’t have a chance to bring a championship to Miami,” Taylor said.