The Pro Football Hall of Fame will welcome its Class of 2017 on Aug. 5. This week, Shutdown Corner is highlighting the greatest moment for each member of the seven-man class, leading up to Saturday’s induction ceremony.
Jason Taylor collected quarterbacks the way kids collect Pokemon, quickly and in volume. The longtime Miami Dolphins defensive end enters the Hall of Fame later this week, in large part because of the #99 brand he left on the hides of many of the NFL’s greatest players.
Taylor’s 139.5 sacks rank seventh in NFL history. His six fumble returns for touchdowns rank first. He never came close to winning a championship—his teams made the playoffs only five times in his 15-year career—but Taylor made sure that the most famous men in football knew his name.
One of those quarterbacks respected—feared?—Taylor so much, he wrote a letter of recommendation for Taylor’s Hall vote. “Regardless of the situation, Jason came after me with the same reckless abandon on each and every snap, getting to his target often,” Tom Brady wrote earlier this year. “Sure, he was an explosive, athletic player, but it was his fierce tenacity that made him one of the league’s most dominant defenders for 15 seasons, and the reason why we were on high alert any time number 99 was in his pass rush stance.”
That’s high praise for Taylor, and with good reason: at the time Taylor retired, he’d recorded more sacks on Brady, 11.5, than any other defensive player in the game. (Buffalo’s Aaron Schobel has since passed Taylor.) When you’ve got even the G.O.A.T. singing your praises, you’ve lived a fine NFL career.
Possibly his greatest quarterback own ever came on Dec. 15, 2002 against a then-fearsome Rich Gannon and the Oakland Raiders. Taylor was in the backfield on the game’s very first play, and then sacked Gannon on the next two, forcing fumbles on both. Oakland recovered both fumbles, but when you’re in a quarterback’s facemask three plays in a row, you’re not just setting a tone—you’re setting up an entire symphony.
“No quarterback likes to be hit and pushed around in the pocket,” Taylor said after that game. “They all want to sit back there and be comfortable, pick and choose who to throw the ball to. If you can take them out of rhythm it usually reaps good benefits.”
That was Taylor’s mantra every week: find the quarterback and knock him out of his comfort zone. And it worked, too. Taylor could threaten a quarterback from any angle: batting down passes, stripping the ball, recovering fumbles, hurling himself through openings the size of keyholes to bring down his prey.
Taylor himself reveled in his rep as a quarterback hunter. Last week, asked about the toughest quarterback to sack, he produced a typically well-reasoned answer: “Big Ben [Roethlisberger] is tough to bring down because he’s so big and strong. He’s always looking downfield, looking to keep plays alive,” Taylor said. “Michael Vick was tough to catch because he was so dang fast. But the toughest to get was Peyton Manning. He had a knack for getting rid of the ball on time. Everything was so timed with him—you might have a clean rush, you might get close, but [when you get to him] the ball’s going to be gone.”
Classic Taylor: tactical, precise, and always on target. Light enough on his feet to nearly win “Dancing With The Stars,” tough enough to bring down even the biggest targets—that’s Jason Taylor, and that’s why he’s headed to Canton.
Previous “Greatest Moments” from the 2017 Hall of Fame class
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.