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The day after their meeting with the Sand Man, Taylor and Wichard went to the Beverly Hills office of Randall Emmett, who has produced more than 50 feature films, and discussed the two reality TV projects on which they're collaborating. The shows--one a sports-lifestyle program with a twist, the other involving the Dolphins' cheerleaders--were conceived during a February meeting in Miami Beach.
Though a self-described Dolphins fanatic, Emmett showed up to that first sit-down with some trepidation. "I'd had courtesy meetings with athletes, and it was like pulling my nails out," Emmett says. "But Jason is a businessman, and he had a very specific vision and he was able to articulate that vision. It'd be very easy for me to put him in a movie. But this is far more interesting, and it's a long-term relationship. Mark Wahlberg is a good friend--a rapper who became a great actor and now produces one of the hottest TV shows in town [Entourage]--and Jason's drive is similar."
The sports-lifestyle show was bought by Fox. Taylor was instrumental in convincing Emmett that it would be easy to lure athletes into an unsuspecting comfort zone. "All athletes love to talk about their houses, their cars, their money, how they 'make it rain,' " he explains. "Hell, look at me--when [ MTV's] Cribs called, I signed right up. If you give athletes a platform to brag, and then you do your homework [on how to set them up for embarrassment], you've got your hook."
Yet as much as Taylor, in this instance, is guilty of stereotyping his fellow pros, he bristles when others' expectations of how an athlete should act are used against him. Some fans have questioned his friendship with Brady, an AFC East rival, to which Taylor scoffs, " Dolphins fans say, 'He's got too much respect for Tom.' I love Tom Brady, but I'd sack my own mother on third-and-eight." He's also sick of hearing whispers that with all his outside interests, his commitment to football is compromised. "People want you to be totally focused on football," he says, "but if you don't remove yourself at times, it will drive you nuts, and you'll become less efficient." And don't get Taylor started on the notion some have that his unabashed ambition makes him something of a sellout to his roots. (He grew up in a largely underprivileged neighborhood.) "What is 'keeping it real'?" he asks. "Keeping it real what? Real stupid? Real poor? Real uneducated? The world is constantly changing, and you've got to evolve with it."
Taylor is still evolving on and off the field. "Nothing's ever good enough for me," he says. "I have a hard time basking in the moment because there's this constant pursuit of perfection, and that's a problem sometimes. But I'm trying to get better. I want to be a better communicator, a better listener. My wife wants to talk about details all the time; she'll tell these drawn-out stories, but I just want her to get to the point and move on. And I need to work on that. That's the kind of guy I am--I always feel like there's something else I have to work on. I want to be a better father, a better husband."
This is as far as Taylor will go in discussing his marital discord: "Obviously, s--- becomes public; the more fame you have, the more public it becomes, which doesn't help. I got my cage rattled. You work at it." Jason and Katina both say he has modified his lifestyle, giving up nights out with the boys (though he still hosts semiregular cigar-and-poker nights at the couple's home in Weston). "He's changing, and he wants to," says Katina. "Everybody's a work in progress, but he's made his family a priority. He's a great husband, a great father. We're in a very good place, thank God for that. Because when I think about where we were a year ago. . . . "
That was when Jason, in that strained phone conversation last summer, mentioned retirement to Katina. That discussion remained private until now, but last Dec. 31, just after the Dolphins' season-ending loss to the Colts, Taylor brought up the subject publicly, telling reporters, "Yes, I will have to think about it. There are no guarantees." He backed off a few days later--"I just wanted to see if anybody cared about me," he jokes--and now says that "barring something drastic, I'm here to play out my contract," which lasts through the 2009 season.
Sitting in a chic restaurant at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, Katina barely glances at her menu. "I think I'll have the rib eye," she announces, sending her husband into laughter because a half-hour earlier, at a diner on Melrose Avenue, Katina had enjoyed a vanilla milk shake and fries. "I'm still hungry," she says, shrugging. "Sometimes I eat like this, but I don't really put on weight when I do."
Wearing a casual top with spaghetti straps, Katina says she feels chilly, and the waiter offers to bring her a shawl. Moments later the Taylors get into a debate over the Bush Administration's foreign policy, with Jason playing the role of James Carville to Katina's Mary Matalin. Yet even as they argue, they hold hands under the table. If the Sand Man could see this, he would smile and package it as a magical matrimonial moment, perhaps with Tim and Faith in the background singing It's Your Love.
And if you asked me why I changed