JT Calling It A Career

Posted Dec 28, 2011

Only a select few athletes are known simply by their initials, and today the Miami Dolphins are witnessing theirs take that historic step into retirement after a prolific career.

Jason Taylor still practiced with the same vigor and professionalism that has defined his 15-year career this afternoon, stretching, running and hitting the tackling dummies with the same intensity. But the veteran outside linebacker known around the league as JT knew he was about to step to a podium and utter those words every athlete likes to put off as long as possible.

“After 15 years of doing this and 13 here in Miami this will be my last game as a Miami Dolphin and as a professional football player,” said Taylor alluding to Sunday’s season finale against the New York Jets at Sun Life Stadium. “So I look forward to enjoying this week and soaking it all in for the next few days, but we have a game left to play, so while there will be a time for thank yous and good-byes and all that, this is not the time.”

When Taylor’s brother-in-law, former Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas, announced his retirement during an emotional press conference on May 20th, 2010, Taylor anticipated the questions that would come his way. The two came up together under former head coach Jimmy Johnson and were the centerpieces of Miami’s staunch defensive units of the late 1990s and early and mid-2000s.

Two of Taylor’s 15 seasons in the NFL were spent away from Miami – 2008 with the Washington Redskins and 2010 with the New York Jets – but his legacy is as a Dolphin. He won his only Defensive Player of the Year award in 2006 with Miami and the following year he received the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, so that in a nutshell sums up how well rounded Taylor is.

“I want to thank Jason for all he has done for the Dolphins and the South Florida community,” Dolphins owner Steve Ross said. “His contributions on the field as one of the greatest players in team history will be remembered by Dolphin fans for years to come, and his charitable works off the field that has benefited so many people will leave a timeless legacy of his community service.”

Taylor made almost just as much of an impact off the field with his Jason Taylor Foundation as he did on it terrorizing opposing quarterbacks. His 139.5 sacks are the sixth most in league history and the seven he has registered this season indicate he still has some gas left in the tank.

For those who followed Taylor closely throughout his career, the transformation he has made from young, energetic and intimidating defensive stalwart to crafty veteran and respected mentor to Dolphins youngsters like Cameron Wake and Jared Odrick is not too surprising. He has possessed the natural skills of a leader from his rookie year back in 1997 and last year’s first-round pick, defensive end Jared Odrick, has benefited the most by sitting next to him everyday inside the locker room.

“He’s taught me a lot just in terms of coming in here everyday and being a professional, just handling your business and handling football as a business and conducting yourself in a certain manner,” said Odrick, who is just two sacks behind Taylor with five. “When you look at JT you look at what he’s done as something to strive for. To be in the league this long, to be successful in the league and to have that type of respect across the league, that’s something you definitely should strive for.”

Taylor has always put the team first and never let his frustrations show regarding Miami’s inability to reach the Super Bowl during his time in uniform. He acknowledged that his biggest regret is not having been able to bring a championship to the city of Miami.

Hearing the words of praise coming from the locker room, however, meant so much to the man who served as one of four team captains the last half of the season. Taylor was the guy heaping praise on Armstrong and the other veterans that helped him along the way, so he did not tread lightly in his reaction.

“I think as a player and an athlete one of the most important things to you is the respect of your peers,” said Taylor, whose 203 games played are second only to Hall-of-Fame quarterback Dan Marino’s 242 in franchise history. “You obviously want to play well, be liked, have fans and things like that, but the guys within your locker room or within your league are very important to you.

“So to hear guys say I had a positive impact on their career, whether they’re just trying to be nice for the media or being truthful, it means a lot. I’ve been telling them the last couple of weeks, because some of the guys have known that this was coming down the tracks, that those are the things I will miss. I have tried to stay around a little longer, hang out a little more to get to know some of the younger guys in different ways and I will miss those guys, each and every one of them.”

There really wasn’t a player on the team that didn’t benefit from having Taylor as a teammate, from the rookies and second-year guys to the veterans like cornerback Will Allen, strong safety Yeremiah Bell and linebackers Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett. Of course in addition to Odrick, outside linebackers Cameron Wake and Koa Misi and defensive ends Kendall Langford, Randy Starks, Phillip Merling and Tony McDaniel paid close attention.

Langford and Merling both are in their fourth seasons, so they missed out on practicing and playing with Taylor as rookies. When he returned in 2009 those two became sponges trying to pick up what they could from the six-time Pro Bowler and Langford will never forget.

“A guy like Jason you look up to him because he’s been doing it for 15 years,” Langford said. “He always came to work and was a professional. He came ready to work, helped the guys out around him and if you had any questions he was always easy to talk to.”

Looking back to his rookie season when he was a third-round draft choice out of Akron, Taylor remembers how impressionable he was. Trace Armstrong was the veteran playing the role of mentor to him just like he has been doing for Odrick, so to come to the realization that his NFL journey is coming to an end was not easy for Taylor.

The fact that he was afforded the opportunity to finish his career with the Dolphins is something Taylor is extremely grateful for and something that was only appropriate. No Dolphins fan would have been able to accept his last action on the field coming in a Jets uniform and in turn those fans will get to see him go out as a Dolphin against the Jets.

“There are a lot of coincidences I guess but it’s great to end at home,” Taylor said. “It’s great to have a chance to walk away and do it in front of your home crowd in a city that means a lot to you and against an opponent that you’ve had a tremendous history against. I want to win the game and I don’t want to win the game because it’s my last game. This is not about Jason Taylor. … I’m just a small piece of this team train and I’m going to do my part Sunday to help win this thing.”
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