A new home
“I like pretty much every coach I’ve played for. I really do. There was one administrative guy and one coach who probably weren’t my fave five, but everybody brought something different. I came in under Jimmy Johnson, who was...” Jason pauses to think of a diplomatic description. “I can’t call him a dictator, but he was very set-structured and hard-nosed. It was a different league then, too. There weren’t as many rules limiting how much you could practice, how much contact you could have, so we went hard. We went hard a lot. It was one speed with Jimmy. Very tough, but it taught me a lot. To come in as a rookie and have a chance to play with all those guys... It’s the people. I always go back to that. It really turned me into the player that I was.”
Jason names players like Dan Marino, Trace Arm- strong, Tim Bowens, and O.J. McDuffie as having been important to his development into an elite NFL player. His relationship with Zach Thomas, however, might be the one that made the deepest impact on Jason, both professionally and personally.
“Zach and I always had a unique relationship because we were teammates, friends, family,” said Jason, smoking a cigar at the poker table in Smoke on the Water’s members-only lounge as he recalled his longtime teammate and brother-in-law. “I learned a lot from Zach. The way he handled himself, the way he prepared himself, the way he fought what sometimes people thought were big odds because of his size and speed.”
Jason, like any fierce competitor in any sport, sought recognition on the field. He kept flash cards that listed annual goals like “make the Pro Bowl” and “Defensive Player of the Year.”
“At the top of that list was always to win a Super Bowl,” he said. “Unfortunately, I failed at that 15 times. But you set a goal and you go after it. It can even be goals that you set on a daily basis. Today, I want to wash my laundry. Today I want to pay the bills. Incrementally, you have stuff going up with bigger and bigger goals.”
“That’s how I approached my career. It’s having something to shoot for. As an athlete, that’s what you do. You’re trying to win the game. That’s what you do. You’re keeping score. I’ve always kept score with myself.”
If Jason was keeping score, so was Miami. He became not only one of the most feared pass rushers in NFL history (he’s sixth on the all-time sack leader list), but also one of the most beloved Miami Dolphins in the history of the franchise. So it was a pretty big deal when he was traded to the Washington Redskins (whose name might have changed by the time this magazine is shipped). He was injured that season and ended up unable to contribute at his normal level. The following season, he ended up back in Miami and playing for new Head Coach Tony Sparano.
“That was great, coming back home,” he said as Dolphins fans in the room who were listening in on our interview recalled the relief they felt on his homecoming. “I mean, it’s been said long before I was born, there’s no place like home. I love it here. In the good years, early on in my career, and through the bad years, when it wasn’t always fun, it was always great to be here and be embraced by this fan base.”
If his being traded away by Dolphins executives caused a stir, it was an even bigger deal when he signed with the eternal archrival New York Jets, it was a treachery that ranked him somewhere between Judas and Benedict Arnold in the eyes of Miami’s most passionate, jersey-burning fans.
“People hated me for it, called me a traitor. Paul Castronovo (half of The Paul and Young Ron Show’s morning radio duo that’s become a household name in South Florida) burned jerseys and all that crap. But, in the end, it was a business thing,” Jason said. “Strangely enough, we had a good year in 2010. One game from the Super Bowl. It was the closest I ever got to a Super Bowl. My family and I embraced the change, embraced the move. I know Dolphins fans don’t like to hear that, but we enjoyed it. It was a little strange coming to Miami and being in the visitors’ locker room in Miami.”
Throughout the week of that game (and even before), Jason had had to deal with fans’ and the media’s focus on the traitor-comes-back-as-enemy storyline. Not the kind of thing an athlete who prefers to keep this head in the game wants to deal with while he’s preparing.
“The storyline wasn’t fun during the week, but when we kick the ball off, it’s great being booed. And we won. Sorry,” he said, laughing as he shrugged at Dolphins fans in the room. “But they beat us in New York, so they got some get-back.”
Life after football
While Jason set and achieved more (and more lofty) individual goals than most players can hope to, he always talks about those achievements in the context of the people around him who helped him succeed. His aversion to talking about his own success without putting it all in terms of how others contributed makes sense. Considering his reputation as one of the “good guys” of the professional sports world, you anticipate this kind of gracious humility. Too often, good deeds and positive stories are overlooked in favor of scandals and bad behavior. Jason Taylor was one of the few who got explicit recognition for being a model citizen—namely in the form of his 2007 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, which came three years after the creation of the Jason Taylor Foundation.
“I was a lucky recipient of a lot of positive attention. There’s a lot of guys in this league who do a lot of great things in their communities on a daily basis. Sure, the media’s going to pick and choose who they highlight. But any time there’s a positive story of somebody who’s impacted the community in a positive way, impacted their teammates in a positive way, done the right thing... Any time a story like that is talked about or written or televised, it’s great for everybody,” he said. “I don’t do it for the recognition. I do it because we enjoy it. We love it. When you see a kid prosper and grow... It’s like a peacock. You see those feathers open up and their chest pumps out a little bit and they get confidence. It’s amazing.”
The Jason Taylor Foundation’s mission is “to support and create programs that facilitate the personal growth and empowerment of South Florida’s children in need.” Aside from creating its own youth programs, the organization helps fund similar charitable endeavors (usually in South Florida). For instance, the foundation opened the Jason Taylor Reading Room in Miramar, Fla., which—among other things—helps kids improve their vocabulary and reading skills. The foundation has also been a supporter of Take Stock in Children, a Florida nonprofit that primarily offers services and scholarships to students.
“You find a problem with kids who fall behind in middle school and don’t have a chance to ever catch up. They get into high school and they’re so far behind, they come from an area where they don’t see a lot of other opportunities. Next thing you know, they drop out. The dropout rate in South Florida is just ridiculous,” said Jason. “So that was kind of our focus; to open the foundation, support others, but then find our niche. We found our niche with the educational piece, with the reading room, with the college scholarships, and now this big poetry program that we have.”