Jason Taylor Enshrinement speech

Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium

August 5, 2017

Thank you. What's up, Canton, Ohio? I know Akron is in the house, too, right? A little bit. Let me start off by thanking, David Baker, Michelle Norris, and the entire staff at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. You guys have been amazing to work with for the last six months, from the time we got elected to be Hall of Famers, through the process of getting here to Canton. You guys are second to none to work with, and I appreciate all your help. I'm sure all the Enshrinees today and in the past really appreciate your guys' help and professionalism.

I want to congratulate my new teammate, the Class of 2017. It was truly overwhelming to share this mountaintop moment with this exceptional group of men, and I really look forward to being a Pro Football Hall of Famer for life, a team we cannot get cut from, we cannot get traded from. Like Dick and Joan said, you can't even die from it. So, I look forward to that.

Jimmy Johnson, Coach, thank you. Thank you for being a guide, a pioneer, a believer, a dream maker. When you drafted me in 1997, guys built like me did not play defensive end in the NFL. But you didn't care. You took a chance, get the undersized guy no, back then they were called tweeners. It was kind of a derogatory term. Now they're called hybrids and everybody wants them.

So, I'd like to think that maybe we had a little something to do with that, so thank you, Coach. It means the world to me that you're here to present me, and they're glad to see you in Canton. Hopefully the next time here in Canton you're putting on one of these jackets and I'm giving you a hug on this stage as well.

You know, I honestly can't believe I'm here. In 1992, I was at the University of Akron, just 20 miles north of here. Twenty miles away, but, you know, it really could have been a million. Back then I couldn't fathom that over the course of the next two decades, step by step, I'd travel those 20 miles to be on this stage wearing this jacket. Twenty years to travel 20 miles, but it was worth every bit of it, I'll tell you what.

And as I reflect on that journey, I realized two important things. First, nobody gets here on their own. And while I have a lot of people to thank, gratitude is at the core of everything I say and feel today, and no one deserves more appreciation than my mother, Georgia Taylor.

I owe you everything, Mom. I played 15 NFL seasons, but the toughest person I've ever met in my life is right there. I'm serious.

I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, and my mother personifies that blue-collar grit that makes the Steel City what it is. We didn't have much Section 8 housing, welfare lines. We lived it. We went through it. But, Mom, you kept us all together. You were our rock.

My father was never in the picture. I never met him. So, my mom kept us together. Like I said, was that rock. She worked two jobs.

(Cheers and applause.)

She worked two jobs, leaving our apartment before I woke up, returning after I was asleep, and still she found a way to impact our lives every day. She was my teacher, she was my role model, and she was my disciplinarian, as many of you guys can probably attest to. She taught me what it meant to work hard and to never give up. Mom, I thank you for that. I love you for that.

In the absence of a father, there were a handful of important inspirational men throughout my journey. The first was Jim Ekis, who is here tonight with his wife, Cheryl. Jim and Cheryl had their own family, but Jim took an interest in a kid who wasn't his, and he showed me something very important: That he cared. It's such a small thing, but it's a big thing. Caring. That's all a lot of us ever wanted.

And like my mother, Jim showed me how to work hard and that a man can be humble, courteous, and patient. Jim, you were a father figure when I needed one the most.

For years my mother told me I had two ways to get out of our circumstances: Get a college scholarship or join the military. But I have to admit, I'm not cut out for the military. But I got very lucky because football found me. Football rescued me.

As a home school kid, I often worked after class or after school. And one day I was working in somebody's yard, and a guy came by who was a head football coach at Woodland Hills High School. His name is George Novak. He's here tonight.

Something compelled Coach Novak to pull over and ask this tall, lanky, 16-year-old kid that was about 150 pounds if I had any interest in playing football. Coach, I'm not sure what you saw in me that day, but, boy, am I glad you pulled over and decided to get me to come play football. And I thank you for setting the path and the foundation for me to be here tonight. Thank you, Coach. I love you.

Football opened a whole new world for me, a way out, to sharpen my mother's words, from wishful thinking to a tangible goal. And when two guys from the University of Akron came knocking on my door, Gerry Faust and Bob Junko, guys, you took a chance on me also, a guy with a kid with no position, too small to really play football, had no idea what I was doing, but you gave me a scholarship anyway.

You guys taught me so much and gave me a chance to play this game, and I thank you both for that. I thank you both for being here tonight as well.

You know, Akron and the University of Akron was meaningful in many ways, but what stands out the most was the bond I developed with my teammates, and I'm really blessed that there's a lot of them here today. Fellas, you know where you are. We made it to Canton, fellas.

(Cheers and applause.)

But one Akron teammate in particular, Bryan Coles, he was like me, a kid from Pittsburgh. We quickly formed a bond, became roommates. And to this day he is like my brother and my best friend. Bryan, you always have my back. I love you to death. You always thought we'd be here. I didn't, Bryan, but thank you.

You know, as the NFL became a real possibility, another person came into my life who would prove to be one of the most impactful, personally and professionally, Gary Wichard. He was my agent, but he was so much more.

(Applause.)

He was a dear friend. He was an advisor, he was a mentor, and he was truly the father I never had. No one believed in me the way Gary did, as a football player, as a person, even as a dancer, that talked me in to do Dancing with the Stars.

(Laughter and applause.)

Gary lived in LA, and while I was obviously an East Coast guy living in Miami, for 14 years not a day went by that I didn't talk to Gary Wichard or text every day for 14 years, right up until the day that the evil, awful disease of cancer took his life.

Gary, I wish you were here today. But I take comfort in knowing his beautiful wife, Maire, is here. And his wife Jessica is here, too. And, Gary, I know you're looking down right now telling saying, Dude, didn't I tell you this was going to happen? I love you and I miss you, Gary.

(Cheers and applause.)

April 19th, 1997, my phone finally rang, and Jimmy Johnson asked me was I ready to be a Miami Dolphin. That call was one of the biggest steps of my 20 year of my 20 mile journey over those 20 years. But the euphoria of draft day wore off very quickly, as soon as I stepped on the field and started practicing for you, Coach, amongst all the screaming and yelling. And you guys that played for Jimmy that are here tonight can attest to how difficult it was.

Now, I'm ashamed to say this, but I'm going to say it on national TV, in front of all you people as well. After about the fifth day at training camp my rookie year, between the two-a-days, the heat and humidity, Jimmy, I went back to my room one night, and I called my mom. I said, Know what, Mom? I don't know if this NFL thing is for me. He had beat I was that beaten down after five days. She said, Well, you can come on home and get a job or go in the military, or you can get your butt to bed and get back to practice.

(Cheers and applause.)

So, Coach, you almost made me quit, but I'm glad I didn't. I'm glad you kept pushing me and you forced me to grow and become the player I am. So, thank you for that.

Anyone that plays football will tell you what they miss the most when they're done is the guys. And I play with so many amazing teammates and people. Guys, if you're here tonight and we lined up together at any point, on any football team, any season, can you please stand up real quick. Come on, guys. Get up. I know there's a lot of them here.

(Cheers and applause.)

This is your time too, fellas. Thank you.

You know, when you begin your NFL career, nothing is more important than the guys in the locker room, and we had an incredible group of veteran players in Miami who weren't just teammates but became my mentors. Guys like Troy Drayton. Troy, where are you? Troy, you and I shared Gary as an agent. You know the special relationship we had. You were a familiar face to me when I came to Miami. You immediately took me under your wing and treated me like a brother, and I thank you for that.

Trace Armstrong, you taught me what it meant to be a pro, to take care of my body, navigate the business, and to truly understand the nuances of playing defensive end.

O.J. McDuffie, you showed me that every snap mattered. You competed on every play, every single play. And you hated to lose any of them. Thank you.

Richmond Webb. You should be on this stage with a gold jacket, by the way. But having to practice against you every day in practice, you would constantly destroy my confidence with one hand and a smile, but you'd lift me back up, send me back out there on Sundays, and Sundays were a lot easier because of you.

Zach Thomas, you were only in your second season in the NFL when I got to Miami, but you were already the leader of our defense. Nobody prepared harder than you. You refused to be outworked. You quickly became one of my best friends, and I thank you for all your leadership and your guidance in the way you approached the game.

TimBo. I know you'll be mad because I call you out. TimBo drove his RV up from Miami to be with us here tonight. I told him we have airplanes and hotel rooms, but he wanted to bring his RV. You are the most unselfish guy I have ever met in my life. TimBo, you're tougher than nails. You're ready to do all the dirty work while guys like me ran around and got all the accolades. And I know you wouldn't have it any other way. Thank you, and I love you.

And, of course, Dan Marino.

(Cheers and applause.)

You know, Dan, as a Pittsburgh kid walking into the Dolphins locker room and seeing you standing there, it was like visiting the Hall of Fame and a Hollywood movie premiere. Dan Marino is Miami, as you all know. Dan, you owned all the responsibility, and you backed it up. You exude a confidence, humility, and compassion. And if anyone prepared me for this moment today, it was you.

Guys, thank you one and all. I appreciate you.

(Cheers and applause.)

Another Miami guy who never played for the Dolphins, in fact, he never played football, but who is indeed a Hall of Famer himself, Alonzo Mourning is here tonight with us.

Zo, your passion, your leadership, your perseverance, commitment to young people in our community was something I tried to emulate every day. I thank you for being that role model, Zo.

In addition to those veteran players, there were other guys that I bled with over the years who remain in my life. A guy like Derrick Rodgers who took up football after serving in the military. Derrick understood what it meant to play this game and to have fun and appreciate the day and not make it bigger than it was.

Another guy from that draft class who reminds me every day that Jimmy took him over me, Jimmy wanted me and Sam Madison, decided to take Sam in the second round, took the chance that I would follow third, and it happened. So, we got them both. But 29, I know you're here tonight.

Sam and Pat Surtain where’s Pat? Sitting next to each other, as they should. These two made up the most dominant cornerback duo in the league for years. Yeah, I'm really proud of my sack totals and the stats that I have, but a whole lot of my sacks belong to you two guys right there for the way you played. Anybody in this stadium tonight could have sacked the quarterback when you guys covered the way you did. Thank you.

To my coaches. Unfortunately, there's been a lot of them. I've been kind of a coach killer. But Dave Wannstedt and Jim Bates, thank you, guys, for your guidance. Clarence Brooks. May you rest in peace, C.B. We miss you.

Nick Saban. You took an innovative approach to my role in the defense, and we took home the Defensive Player of the Year award, along with Dom Capers. And Dan Quinn was also part of that Player of the Year season. Dan Quinn is here tonight. You should be in Atlanta, you and Keith Armstrong, getting ready for another Super Bowl run, but you chose to be here with us tonight. Dan, you know it means the world to me. Thank you very much.

Rex Ryan, you taught me you showed me that we can win and have fun. Tony Sparano and Todd Bowles, you guys handled my final season with such grace, and I appreciate the way you guys handled everything. Thank you, all, for that.

You know, sometimes as players we forget the men who afford us this unique opportunity to play the game of football that we love, and I was blessed to play for some really amazing owners.

Wayne Huizenga, I know you're not here with us tonight, but I thank you for helping me provide for my family in a way I never thought possible. You were the biggest Dolphin fan, and everything you did was first class.

Wayne hired two guys, very honorable men, to help steer the ship in Miami, Eddie Jones and Bryan Weidmier. Unfortunately, we had to say goodbye to both of those guys way too soon, but I know they're in heaven right now looking down and they're proud.

Stephen Ross, Dolphins owner, thank you. Thank you for everything. Thank you for allowing my current teammates to come up here tonight. Cam Wake is here. Mike Pouncey is here, John Denney.

Dan Snyder, I had a good talk with Dan last night. Thank you for the opportunity to come to Washington. I know I didn't give you much, two and a half sacks, stole a lot of money from you, but I appreciate it.

(Laughter.)

Hey, I'm just being honest, all right? We talked about this last night at Jerry's party. Redskin owner at the Cowboys party, me feeling awkward because I stole so much money from Dan. But he was very gracious. And Dan, Dan Snyder, thank you so much for what you did for me and my family and for the opportunities. Also, Woody Johnson, when I was in New York, fantastic owner as well. Thank you, guys.

And to the guys who really never get any credit but absolutely keep every football team running, and that's the support staff. Tony Egues, a couple of the guys that are here tonight that meant the world to me that came up from Miami Joey, Charlie, K.O., Troy, Ben, Stu, Harvey, Scott, Billy G., the list goes on and on. But thank you, guys, for the things you do behind the scenes. You never get thanked for it. You work the worst hours, make the least amount of money, and we appreciate you guys. We can't do it without you, and I'm glad you're here with us tonight.

Another one of those special support guys is a guy named Seth Levit, who not only 

(Cheers and applause.)

Who not only supported my efforts when I played, but also became a part of just about everything I do personally and also with my foundation. Seth, thank you for all you do. But as you know, most importantly, thank you for your friendship and for your trust and your love. I appreciate that.

You know, there's a real bond that can develop in the fire of the fight, an admiration, given begrudgingly, as the highest respect. So, I'd also like to thank those opponents who forced me to raise my game if I ever wanted to literally reach them, guys like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, two of the most prolific quarterbacks to ever play this game.

Collectively I had to face those guys 33 times, and too often those two ruined my Sundays. But I got my I got my share of good ones in there, and it still feels good, but, Tommy, Peyton, thank you for making me better.

Jonathan Ogden, Orlando Pace, Walter Jones, Willie Roaf, I mean, these are the guys I had to play against sometimes. As I stand here and say their name, I still get chills. It's really hard for me to thank you guys. I know a lot of you up here on the stage. The things you did to me wouldn't be legal if we weren't wearing a helmet and shoulder pads. But believe me, I'm thankful I'm on your team now, and thank you for what you guys did to help me be better.

(Applause.)

Bill Belichick. I never had the pleasure of playing for him, but I had the pleasure of facing his teams twice a year for more than a decade. Bill, you put a target on my back, my front, my sides. And as a result of that, I never felt more respected.

To all the Gold Jackets here, my new forever teammates, thank you, sincerely, thank you for all you've done to pave the way. I've looked up to so many of you over the years.

And this roster is spectacular, but there are nine guys that I'd like to address: Paul Warfield, Larry Csonka, Jim Langer, Bob Griese, Larry Little, Coach Don Shula, Dwight Stephenson, Nick Buoniconti, and of course Dan Marino.

(Cheers and applause.)

These are the nine Dolphins currently in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and they are the men whose legacy I tried to honor each and every time I put that uniform on.

To the great city of Miami and our amazing, passionate Dolphin fans.

(Cheers and applause.)

You guys joined me in a long ride filled with ups and downs, but your support never wavered. I thank you for that. In my opinion, the greatest fans in the NFL, Miami Dolphin fans.

(Cheers and applause.)

Now, I know I talked a lot about the journey of a lifetime, but none of that would have been a thing if it wasn’t if I wasn't able to share it with the people who matter the most to me, my family.

My older sister, Tiffany, you're an amazing woman. I looked up to you for years. You fought many battles for me when I used to get my butt kicked in Pittsburgh. You're an amazing mother to five beautiful children. You're tough. You're an amazing woman. I can't thank you enough, you and your husband, Sam.

My little sister, Joy, you've made us proud. You're doing amazing things. Very, very proud of you, and I love you.

Grace came all the way from the DMZ in South Korea to be with us here tonight as she serves in the Air Force.

(Cheers and applause.)

Grace, part of the mission of the Pro Football Hall of Fame is to honor heroes. We may be football heroes, but you and every other veteran or active military person in this room, including my uncle, are the real heroes of our country. Thank you for the sacrifices. Thank you for what you guys do.

(Cheers and applause.)

Thank you all for what you guys do so we can go to bed at night in peace, with security, knowing that you have our backs. I hate that you have to go back, but I'm glad you're here.

My little brother, Noah. Proud father of his own child. You're doing an amazing job. I'm proud of you. Keep growing at being who you are.

(Applause.)

I can't even say it. My hearts. Our kids. Isaiah, Mason, and Zoey, you guys are my world.

(Applause.)

You know, I've always believed that no matter what you do in life for a profession I want to be the best at, but no level of success in any walk of life means anything if you're not taking care of what's important first.

I never had a father, and there's no bigger honor, there's no bigger blessing, and there's no greater job in this world than being a father.

(Cheers and applause.)

I made it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but when I die, all I want in this world is for my kids to be able to say: He was a Hall of Fame dad. That's the most important thing to me. I love you guys from the bottom of my heart.

(Cheers and applause.)

Thank you, guys, for always being there, supporting me, even when you were young. You didn't know what was going on a lot of times, but you and your mom were always there to support me. And without that, I could not be here. So, keep growing, keep being who you guys are. I'm very, very proud of you.

All right. That was the part I was worried about getting through. So, when I began this speech, I mentioned that over my 20 miles in 20 years, it made me realize two things, and the first was that nobody gets here alone. Well, the second is that I have one regret, and only one. You see, I was so focused on the destination the entire time I didn't enjoy the ride enough. I wish I can go back and savor every film session, every pregame meal with my teammates, every locker room prank, every postgame speech, every fan that waited outside the stadium for hours to see you or wave at you.

So, I challenge each and every one of you today to enjoy your journey, wherever it is, wherever it takes you. Appreciate those around you, and articulate that appreciation. Embrace your successes and your failures. And understand that each moment is a unique step on your path that you can never, ever get back.

You see, wonderful experiences become distant memories so fast. Too fast. And I wish I had the gratitude then that I have now and said some of the heartfelt things that I've said today before today.

Listen, it wasn't easy. Easy doesn't get you here. Kenny's name maybe Easley, but easily is not how he got here. To channel the great Denzel Washington: If it were easy, there'd be no Morten Andersen, no Kurt Warner, no LaDainian Tomlinson. If it were easy, there'd be no Terrell Davis. If it were easy, there'd be no Jerry Jones. If it were easy, there'd be no Jason Taylor.

Ease is a greater threat to growth than hardship. I repeat: Ease is a greater threat to growth than hardship. So, keep moving, keep growing, learning, loving.

I couldn't have made it in these 20 miles over 20 years if I didn't have you at my back, at my side, and out in front. My football career forever ends right here tonight. My gratitude is eternal. Thank you.

(Cheers and applause.)



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