Unthinkable just a few months ago, Jason Taylor's new reality was on full display Sunday night.
He walked around the visitor's locker room postgame in a “Los Jets” T-shirt. He got booed by the crowd that spent a dozen seasons lauding his every move. He even dried off from a postgame shower with a green towel, a color he once professed to loathe.
“Whether people like it or not,” Taylor said, “I am a New York Jet.”
The Jets sure are liking him.
Taylor had a sack and a quarterback hurry in the Jets' 31-23 win over the Miami Dolphins, a game that came tinged with emotion for the former NFL defensive player of the year — who spent 12 of his first 13 seasons as a pro in South Florida. He left the Dolphins' home stadium a winner for the 58th time, the first as an opponent.
“That was impressive,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said. “What a tremendous player. We wanted him to play like 75 percent of our snaps but he is obviously, with the injury to Calvin Pace, we're playing him much more than that. The guy's in great shape. The elbow would keep most guys out but it doesn't affect him. He's just a tough guy, a true professional and just a joy to have in our locker room.”
Taylor was playing with a hyperextended left elbow. Didn't seem to affect him much, especially when it came to his signature celebration.
After sacking Chad Henne, Taylor pranced a bit away and punched the air, then posed as the once-adoring crowd booed him. As Taylor put it, “Same dance — different uniform.”
“It was different, you know, doing the whole visitors' routine and coming out and being on the other side of fans' cheers and all that,” Taylor said. “But once the game started, it was football as usual.”
Taylor was the Jets' lone captain representative for the pregame coin toss, drawing a less-than-warm reception, the likes of which he neatly avoided after warming up a half-hour earlier by leaving the field at the same time his former team was going through the tunnel toward the locker rooms.
When he wore Miami's aqua and orange, Taylor was an absolute thorn to the Jets. He had 100 tackles, more than he posted against any other opponent, against the team that he often claimed to despise.
But when Bill Parcells — with whom the longtime Miami star never exactly had the best of relationships with anyway, a frost that began settling after Taylor's stint on ABC's Dancing with The Stars — didn't offer a contract for 2010, the NFL's active sacks leader had to change course.
And that led to Taylor’s deciding his long chase of a Super Bowl ring would continue with the Jets, a surprising new chapter in the long New York-Miami rivalry.
He was looking forward to, and at the same time dreading, coming to Miami as an opponent. In the end, he was thrilled when it was over, and not just because the Jets prevailed, either.
“I'm not going to change my passion for the game and play any differently because I'm with a different team,” Taylor said. “I mean, I am who I am. I'm going to play with a lot of passion and emotion and intensity. And that's my job for this football team to try to help this football team win, and this was a big win for us tonight.”
Photo: Jason Taylor