“I still can’t believe my name will be on the stadium,” Taylor said Tuesday. “I hope they don’t tear the thing down anytime soon.”
Added Thomas, “I’m most proud that I am going up with a member of my family. We share something very special.”
It is one thing to talk about football, to talk about how these two unique individuals may have been the finest two defensive players this franchise has seen. How each was defined by big plays. Powerful moments. A game-changing sack for Taylor. A sideline-to-sideline tackle for Thomas. How the statistics they compiled boggles the mind and can fill up pages and pages in the team’s media guide.
But this is so much more than just about football. This is about a bond, a life together. Two teammates off the field. Two families that share so much.
I got to sit down with Taylor and Thomas – or is it Thomas and Taylor? – for about 10 minutes Tuesday afternoon. They were relaxed, joking around, thinking about this Sunday and what it’s going to be like seeing their names next to Shula and Marino and Buoniconti on the stadium wall.
Someday when their children are grown up, they will no doubt attend games at this stadium. They will look up and see their father’s name on the wall. I wondered what at that precise moment Taylor and Thomas hoped their children would think about.
Zach: “I want them to be proud. I want them to realize how much their father sacrificed to get there. How I was supposed to be too small, too this and too that, and it never stopped me from trying to be the best.”
Jason: “I want them to look up there and say, ‘Wow, my hero was a good football player, too.”
There is so much emotion running through Taylor and Thomas these days. So many things to look back upon. So many things to share. How they wish some of their teammates were being honored in a similar way. How they appreciate so much their place in Dolphins history. And how they couldn’t have come up with a better script than the two of them together on the same Sunday in the stadium they called home for so many years.
I asked Taylor what he admired most about Thomas: “The way he prepared, the passion he played with, how he would sacrifice so much to win a football game.”
I asked Thomas the same thing: “The way he competed, his will to win. It’s easy to say something nice about someone just to be nice. But with Jason, it was all very real. He loved this game. He loved to compete.”
They still love to compete. They’ll play basketball against each other. They’ll play ping pong. They’ll play golf. Sometimes they’ll think back to the first time they met, how they shared a mutual respect without really knowing one another.
“When I was in college, I followed the Dolphins because I was a big Marino fan being from Pittsburgh,” Taylor said. “I remember looking at their defense and asking: “Who is that white dude running around all over the place making tackles.”
Countered Thomas: “I remember looking at Jason early on and wondering, “who is that tall, skinny guy?”
Today they know. They have shared so many memories. The fact that Taylor married Thomas’ sister certainly helped cement their friendship, but you get the feeling they would have been close without that family connection. They look so different; yet they are so much alike. Tough. Competitive. Smart. Intensely loyal.
And such an important part of each other’s lives.
“Zach meant more to my playing career than he ever realized,” Taylor said.
Added Thomas: “My sister is blessed to have him as a husband.”
They both still follow the Dolphins with a passion and are clearly excited over the positive strides taken by this year’s team. Their interviews on Tuesday were interrupted by a visit from Coach Joe Philbin, who even gave Taylor and Thomas a tour of some of the changes made at the training complex. You could tell how much they appreciated Philbin taking that time.
“I remember the first time I ever walked into the stadium,” Thomas said. “I remember looking up at the wall and seeing the names of so many great Dolphins. And to think now my name will be up there as well? It’s surreal.”
While Thomas was praising some of his former defensive teammates, he slipped in that some of Taylor’s sacks came because of exceptional coverage in the defensive backfield.
Taylor gave Thomas a dirty look. “There weren’t THAT many coverage sacks,” he said.
They looked at each other and laughed.
Then, for a moment, I got real personal. I said I know it may sound trite, but do you two guys really love each other? Really love each other?
There was a pause. At the same precise moment they both responded, “Yes.”
“Hey, I love him,” Taylor said, “but I’m not in love with him.”
They both laughed again. “We’re very lucky,” Thomas said.
They are very lucky and we are all very lucky to have been along for this glorious ride.