Fred Taylor on Sunday will become the second player inducted into the Pride of the Jaguars. Taylor, the No. 9 overall selection in the 1998 NFL Draft from the University of Florida, played for the Jaguars from 1998-2008, and helped the team to five playoff appearances in that span. He is 15th on the NFL’s all-time rushing list with 11,695 yards and is the Jaguars’ all-time leading rusher. He finished his career with seven 1,000-yard seasons. Taylor this week spoke with jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser and looked back on his career, how he changed during his time with the franchise and what Sunday’s honor will mean to him.
What’s this week been like for you? It has to be special, and in a way strange at the same time.
I never signed up for it. I never really even played the game thinking my name would be there one day. Some guys might get that vision, and maybe that’s part of their motivation or goals when they play, I don’t know, but it was never part of mine. I’ve been extremely consistent in saying that I came to the NFL wide-eyed and happy, wanting to make it. The other thing I’ve always said is after my first Camp Coughlin, I only wanted to play two or three years, then move back to Belle Glade.
Really? You figured you’d only play a few years?
That’s the truth. My first camp was hell. It was tough. I was like, ‘Whoa, I have to do this to make a living?’ But at some point during camp and after, you realize how fast the season moves along. I was like, ‘Man, I can do this forever. This is too easy.’ The success and the fame, it was good stuff. It became easy. It became routine. I never looked at it as routine, but it was.
What did it mean in ’07 and ’08 to have the fans embrace you? There were some tough times throughout your career, but by the end, you were beloved and remain that way now. It became a special relationship at the end of your career.
People respect something that’s worth fighting for. If I look at someone who’s battered and bruised, taking punches, yet you can see the effort they display and the willingness to be great, and continually fighting and persevering – which is what I did throughout my career with the injuries – you develop a certain respect for that person. If I’m watching boxing and I see a guy getting his butt kicked all the time, but he keeps fighting and eventually excels and becomes a champion, I’m going to have a certain respect for him versus someone who’s always winning.
And the fans always mattered to you, that relationship...
I’ve never understood athletes who get a sense of entitlement, a sort of machoism that, ‘I did all of this myself.’ You need the support. I love to compete. Competition is beautiful. I love it. But an empty stadium? No support? The adrenaline, you can’t turn it on. Without fans, you can’t do the above and beyond, so these fans – I needed them. I always wanted to embrace them and give back. Some guys have to pretend, but it’s just naturally embedded in me. That’s how I was raised. That’s how I was brought up. I don’t think I’m better than the next person. I’m human, like everyone else. I was blessed with tons of talent to be able to play a sport that this society goes crazy over. I’m thankful. I was one of the lucky ones. I was able to play at a very high level for a long time. I think people respect that and I wanted to show them the same love in return.
Not so much those runs. I look at those and say, ‘That guy there had some speed on him.’ Those aren’t the ones that make me go, ‘Man.’ If I’m making guys miss with an eight-yarder, or a 10-yarder, some of those are more exciting for me than the long runs. The long runs are where you out-run people. I’m supposed to do that if I get that daylight. That’s what they brought me here for. The ones that excited me most are ones where I stiff arm, spin move – the total package – where I was able to jump cut and just embarrass tacklers one by one, to be able make a guy miss in a short space, spin, reaccelerate, break a tackle. Those are the runs that excited me. The run that would have been maybe the top run of my career is the one ironically I hate the most, the one against the Titans where I tore my groin off the bone (in 2001). I threw the ball to the sky. That cut on that run should have never happened. I see why I tore my groin. (Titans safety) Blaine Bishop had me in the A Gap and for me to jump cut from the front side A gap all the way to the backside B gap, that was almost impossible. It was just a reaction, but if I had executed that, it would have been one of my best runs. I don’t know how I attempted to make that cut. (Laughing) I think I overdid it. Talking to those guys later, they didn’t know how I made that cut, but they got the last laugh at the end, because I gave them the ball.
Sometimes you talk to players who play at a high level, and you don’t get the idea they appreciate how rare an opportunity this is. Not you. You savored this. You knew what it was.
The game, whatever you give it, it’s going to give it back to you. That’s just how I feel about it. Early in my career, things came easy. Really easy. Once I realized I was good enough to compete at that level, I was like, ‘Man, I’m just going to take advantage of this.’ I was taking advantage of it, but at the same time, I was taking advantage, but I was creating something wrong on the other side. I wasn’t paying attention to taking care of myself, taking care of my body. I was playing on pure talent. There’s a sense of invincibility that all of us as NFL players tend to have. If you don’t focus or recommit every year, things tend to catch up with you. For me, it was the injury bug. I realized how important it was to me and that’s the thing that reignited that flame, that love for the game. It mattered to me. I went out and started to create a different foundation. I started taking care of my body and realizing how things needed to be done to be successful. Having missed ‘X’ amount of games, every time you’re out there’s a sense of depression and a sense of how bad I wanted it, how much I needed it. I needed football, and for me, it just made me a better person. I was able to prepare and do some things differently.
You speak a lot to younger players. Assuming that’s the message...
That’s what I try to tell the current players, the younger guys. You have to realize your priorities, how important it is to you, and not just the money. The money’s good. We all know that. You’re getting paid for something you love to do for fun, but that can all come to an abrupt ending if you forget your priorities. It’s something you’re supposed to love and supposed to cherish. When they say it’s, ‘Not for long,’ people don’t understand how true it is. Those 13 years went by in the snap of a finger. That 13 years is gone. Guys don’t realize it.
There are those who say your transformation as a player was one of the most remarkable they’ve seen. From a shy kid from Belle Glade to a veteran leader...
Throughout my career, I would sit back and listen and take notes. I would get around the coaches, people in the front office, in ownership, and listen to how they speak about life. I would take it all in. I wanted to do that. People talk about the transformation. You have to want to change. I come from an area where people are content in their ways. It’s a small, country town and everyone’s content. Me, I wanted more. I still want more. Football was a platform I was able to use to show who I am as a person. They saw me on the field, but now that I’m crossing over I want them to see the same work ethic, so I can be successful on the business side of things.
Finally, when you look up on Sunday and see that cover come off and your name on the stadium, what’s that moment going to feel like?
If the web cam was on me now, you’d see how I’ll feel. I get tickled and tied up at the same time. It’s one of those overly joyous type moments where you have to smile to keep the tears away. I don’t know what my reaction will be. I’ll probably feel like I could put the helmet on and go and get a few snaps, so I don’t know. I’m sure it’s going to be a lot of electricity in the stadium. My adrenaline has been pumping all week.