On Nov. 11 at Tennessee, Taylor was 13 yards from the 10,000-yard career total that is the benchmark for great running backs. He told his linemen, "I'm not going to juke anybody. I'm just going to run people over." For years Taylor was a little back in a big back's body. Though the Jaguars' media guide lists him at 6'1", 228 pounds, with his cuts and shimmies Taylor reminded fans of smaller jitterbugs such as Barry Sanders.
But when Taylor took the handoff that day in Nashville, he did not try to run around Titans safety Chris Hope. He exploded through him, carrying Hope along for a 15-yard gain and the milestone. Tennessee fans, some of whom had been rooting against Taylor since his SEC days at Florida, stood to salute him. You could almost hear patrons at sports bars around the country asking, Fred Taylor has 10,000 yards?
"He's not Fragile Fred anymore," left tackle Maurice Williams says. In his first four years, Taylor missed 24 games. In his last six seasons he has missed only eight. In the locker room at Tennessee, as players chanted "Fred-die!" and "Uncle Fred!", Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver threw an arm around Taylor and announced, "This guy has been the heart and soul of this football team for a lot of years."
Last spring, when Taylor was entering the final year of his contract and seeking an extension, the Jaguars easily could have handed the job to Jones-Drew. But they couldn't imagine life without Taylor. So they added three years to his contract, believing that Jones-Drew could help prolong Taylor's career. He now plans to play through 2010.
He has become an unlikely club leader. When he talks to his teammates after practice, he does not ad-lib. He recites a speech he has written on a sheet of paper, tucked into his waistband and carried throughout the session.
After Jacksonville drafted Jones-Drew in the second round in 2006, Taylor arranged a meeting with the rookie in the locker room. "I'm here to learn from you," Jones-Drew said.
"Then I'm willing to teach," Taylor replied. The two have become so close that Taylor's wife, Andrea, sometimes cooks dinner for Jones-Drew during the season.
FRED TAYLOR first spotted Andrea Barnett through his camcorder on a vacation in Cancún, Mexico, in 1999. He was filming, as he says, "all the scenery." He spent two minutes taping her from afar but never approached her. When he got back to Jacksonville and watched the footage, he recognized a woman standing next to Andrea. She was a former girlfriend of Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks. Taylor contacted Brooks and begged him to set him up with Andrea. Three years later Taylor proposed to her, though he could not bend down on one knee because his groin was so sore. Even in his personal life he was playing hurt.
Sometimes Taylor wonders what his career statistics would be if he had not missed 32 games due to injury. He might have a couple thousand more yards by now. But those who understand the art of rushing still appreciate his stylish bursts. Last off-season, while Taylor dined with friends at a Miami steak house, O.J. Simpson approached his table. "I love to watch you run," Taylor says Simpson told him.
Starved for a chance to play in the spotlight, Taylor constantly monitors the playoff race, calculating tiebreakers and breaking down potential matchups. He knows what an extended playoff run would mean, both to himself and the Jaguars. They could finally grab a little of the love that always goes to the Colts and the Patriots.