(EDITOR’S NOTE: The Pro Football Hall of Fame will announce the Class of 2018 semifinalists Tuesday at 8 p.m. Eastern)
It wasn’t that long ago — the middle of last summer, in fact — that former running back Fred Taylor took to Twitter to express his frustration and anger at having never been discussed as a Hall-of-Fame candidate.
“I earned respect on the field,” he tweeted. “Numbers better than majority of running backs in history. Still don’t understand why the writers don’t respect it. Not just the back who have come and gone in NFL HISTORY … but better than the majority of backs in the HOF.”
That got our attention. So we called Taylor and asked Jacksonville’s career rushing leader what was behind his outburst. He was only too willing to explain on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast.
“I was just sitiing at home,” he said, “and I realized that a year ago it had been my fifth year out, and I was eligible for nomination. I thought that I was worthy of consideration or needed to be in that conversation as soon as I was done. And I didn’t hear my name. But I would hear other guys in that conversation.
“I understand how it goes. And I understand a lot of times when you hear my name, you say, ‘Oh, he was trapped in the Jacksonville market, et cetera, et cetera, and what have you. So I thought if I don’t force the issue and at least toss it out there, they will bury you.”
Taylor said he got the idea after speaking with former running back Terrell Davis, who was elected to the Class of 2017 after 11 years of eligibility. Davis was a controversial choice because of a career cut short by injuries. Nevertheless, he made it in his third try as a finalist.
I thought if I don’t force the issue and at least toss it out there, they will bury you.
“After I talked to Terrell he said the same thing,” said Taylor. “He said, ‘Oh, yeah, I felt the same way after awhile. You know, you sit there, and you say: I think I deserve it at some point … just to be in the conversation. Not asking to be first-ballot or tomorrow or ten years from now. But just a part of the conversation because I believe my stats are deemed worthy of just being in the category with a lot of guys who very good players.’ So, I said, ‘Let me vent a little bit, get it out there and see what happens.’ ”
What happened was that Taylor gained a raft of attention, more so than at any time since he retired. And maybe he deserved it. After all, the guy ranks 17th in career rushing numbers and, entering this season, held 42 Jacksonville records. But it wasn’t numbers that convinced him to go public; it was his peers.
“In all honesty,” he said, “when I have peers … guys we played twice a year before they realigned the division — the Ray Lewises and Ed reeds of the world. Even derrick brooks, warren sapp. All these guys … Rod Woodson; even Mr. Jim Brown. When I hear my peers say certain things in regards to my career and what I did on the field …
“I never worried about the injuries as a player. I played my butt off. And that’s the way you should play the game — with reckless abandon — and that’s what I did until later I learned how to run the ball a little bit more smart to be able to play another game.
“So when you hear my peers talk about the quality of player I am, that’s what sort of made me feel that I was respected as a player. Not what the writers said or the Pro Bowl votes or what have you, but when they said certain things. Because that’s who I was competing against.
“So just sitting back, it hit me: I saw YouTube and Ray Lewis (said), ‘He was the best running back I ever faced.’ I was like, ‘You know what? He was one of the best linebackers to ever play the game.’ Let me just voice my opinion because he said so.”
And so he did.