AC in the AM: JT And Jimmy, The Way It Should Be

Posted Jun 19, 2017

This is a story about a player who needed someone to believe in him and a coach who believed.

It should come as no great surprise that Jason Taylor has selected his former head coach Jimmy Johnson to be his presenter at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony on the first Saturday of August.

It’s the logical choice. Player and coach united once again. This time on one of the most prestigious stages of all in Canton, Ohio.

Taylor officially announced his intentions on a video released Monday.

“I really took my time with this decision,” Taylor said. “But the more I thought about it, the same name always rose to the top of the list.”

It was Johnson who back in 1997 surprised many by taking a tall, lanky defensive end from Akron – not exactly a football factory -- in the third round of the draft. It was Johnson who could see the upside, who looked past that slender build and saw a player he could help mold into a game-changer, a player who could even possibly help re-define a position that for so long had been dominated by bulky and powerful.

Who knew back then that this joyride would someday take them to the Hall of Fame? But the seeds were planted in that 1997 draft and for the next three years, the coach and the player became close, embracing a mutual respect for one another, devising ways to take advantage of Taylor’s unique abilities and developing a trust that is often so rare and special in this crazy, often cold-hearted sport.

“He took a chance on an undersized defensive end and never looked back,” Taylor said in the video. “He believed in me and gave me the opportunity of a lifetime.”

As soon as the announcement was made that Taylor had been selected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, the questions began: Who would Taylor choose to present him? Who would receive that honor? Taylor needed some time to sort out his feelings, but deep down he already knew. Had to be Jimmy. Nobody had a bigger impact on his football career. Nobody deserved this more.

You just know how special this is going to be for Johnson. It is the first time he will have presented a player for induction and how ironic that Jerry Jones, his owner in Dallas, will enter the Hall on the same day.

Johnson, you should know, was far more than merely an interested bystander in Taylor’s selection. So convinced was he that Taylor deserved this honor – and deserved it now – that Johnson wrote a letter to the selection committee and you just know that carried plenty of weight.

“There are a select group of players who play the game differently than anyone else,” Johnson said in that letter. “You don’t need to watch tape to know who they are – you can see it plainly on the field. I can tell you that Jason Taylor was one of those few.”

I remember that 1997 draft well. The Dolphins took Yatil Green in the first round, a receiver from Miami whose career was cut short by injuries. They took cornerback Sam Madison in the second round. Turned out to be a pretty good pick, don’t you think? But I vividly remember Johnson talking about Taylor after selecting him in the third round. There was excitement in his voice and a sense of confidence in his words.

Johnson saw the passion. He saw the athleticism. “I think we may have gotten a good one here,” he said that day.

Talk about an understatement.

But who could have known how special? Who could have known that Taylor would so perfectly fit the mold of a difference-maker and would turn that one man’s belief into a 15-year record-shattering career, 13 of those years with the Dolphins?

“I know you are considering a number of worthy candidates for the Hall,” Johnson concluded in that letter. “I hope you believe as I do that Jason ranks alongside the best of them. I have no doubt he belongs in Canton, and after looking at his accomplishments and his impact, I think you will agree with me.”

And agree they did, making Taylor only the second Dolphins defensive player, joining Nick Buoniconti, to reach this hallowed ground.

“Coach, thank you,” Taylor said at the close of his video, “and I look forward to seeing you in Canton.”

The head coach and the player together once again, believing in one another now just as they did twenty years ago, sharing this moment of a lifetime. Can there be a more perfect final chapter than that?

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