Jason Taylor’s first tear came as he mentioned his mom. He knew this would happen. He predicted they’d fall long before Saturday night’s induction speech into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“Gratitude is at the core of everything I feel today, and no one deserves more appreciation than my mother, Georgia Taylor,” the former star said on stage. “I owe you everything mom. I played 15 seasons but the toughest person I’ve ever met in my life is right there.”
She started crying now, wiping her eyes, in the front row where she sat with family and friends.
“I was born in Pittsburgh and my mother personifies that Steel City grit that makes the city what it is. We didn’t have much. Section-8 housing. Welfare lines. But mom, you kept us together. You were our rock. My father wasn’t in the picture. I never met him. But mom kept us together.”
He was crying now, too. He gripped the podium harder. He looked down.
“She worked two jobs, leaving our apt before I woke up, returning after I was sleep, and still she found a way to impact our lives every single day.”
How to sum up a lifelong journey? How to condense this ride to Canton in a 31-minute speech? With heartfelt words. With tears and laughter. And by pointing out to those in the crowd who helped you along the ride.
There, Taylor said, was Jim Meacus — “A father figure when I needed one the most.” There was George Novak, the Woodlawn Park High football coach who saw Taylor cutting grass one day and, “pulled over to ask this tall, lanky, 6-foot kid who was about 160 pounds if I wanted to play football.”
There, too, was his Akron coach, Gerry Faust, and his late agent, Gary Wichard, and his Hall presenter, , who drafted and worked him so hard he told a story.
“After about the fifth day of training camp my rookie year, after the heat, the two-a-days, Jimmy yelling, I called my mom and said, ‘You know, mom, I don’t know if this NFL thing is for me.’ ” Taylor said. She said, ‘Well, you can come home and get a job or [go] in the military — or you can get your butt back to bed and get to practice.’ ”
He chuckled then. Everyone did. He then asked everyone who played with him as a Dolphin to stand up. They all did, from active Dolphins Cameron Wake, and to retired teammates like Sam Madison, Patrick Surtain, Todd Wade and Channing Crowder.
“This is your time, too fellas,” Taylor said.
He called some out. O.J. McDuffie, for, “teaching me every snap mattered,” he said. Richmond Webb, for, “having to practice against you every[day] — you’d totally destroy my confidence with a smile.” He thanked , because, “Nobody prepared harder than you. You refused to be outworked.” (Thomas, the brother of Taylor’s ex-wife, Katina, did not attend the ceremony).
“And of course ,” Taylor said. “You know Dan. As a Pittsburgh kid walking into the Dolphins locker room, it was like visiting the Hall of Fame and a Hollywood movie premiere.”
He thanked most of his coaches — “And there were a lot of them” — leaving out only Cam Cameron, who went 1-15 in his only season with the Dolphins. He thanked his team’s owners, even Washington’s Dan Snyder.
“I know I didn’t give you much — 2 1/2 sacks,” he said. “I stole a lot of money from you but I appreciate [it].”
“Hey, I’m being honest,” he said. “We talked about it last night at [Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’] party.”
Finally, he got to his siblings and children. One sister, Grace, is in the Army and flew from the demilitarized zone in South Korea. His three children, Isaiah, (14), Mason (12) and Zoe (11) brought more tears from Taylor.
“I never had a father, but there’s no bigger honor, no bigger blessing and no greater job in this world than being a father,” he said.
“I made it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But all I want in this world is for my kids to say, ‘He was a Hall of Fame dad.’ ”
He was winding up the speech now, saying he had one regret. He didn’t, “savor the ride enough.” He was too focused on the next snap.
“I challenge each and every one of you to enjoy the journey,” he said.
He stepped back. He looked in the crowd. This night, he savored.
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