Taylor Has His Likeness Sculptured In Clay

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With the NFL draft upon us, the, the one word nobody wants to hear right now is “bust.”

But Dolphin fans surely will embrace one bust associated with the team this week – the one created for newly minted Hall of Famer Jason Taylor.

Taylor’s likeness was sculptured in clay on Wednesday in preparation for being molded into bronze in the coming weeks. The finished product will be unveiled at the enshrinement ceremonies of this year’s Hall of Fame class in Canton and will take its rightful place in the Hall alongside the busts of the rest of football’s greats.

Creating the artifact was an all-day affair at Taylor’s home, starting early in the morning and concluding as darkness fell. In his playing days Taylor was known for his quickness and agility, but this time sculptor Ben Hammond accomplished something few offensive linemen were able to do – he slowed Taylor down. Hammond had Taylor sit or stand for hours on end in JT’s home while Hammond meticulously crafted Taylor’s profile on the clay slab. It was a painstaking process as Hammond worked to get every last detail right.

“More than anything, I want Jason to be happy with it,” said Hammond. “It’s for him – he’s the one who earned the honor.”

While Hammond has some artistic license in his design, in the end he is guided by Taylor’s vision.

“I hope the bust looks like me when I was 30,” said Taylor, watching as Hammond literally peeled away the years. “There have been differing opinions of the age I look on the bust, but we’re shooting for 30. I still think I look 30 right now, even though I’m 42, so I think we’ll be able to capture that look.”

Beyond that, there is always the question of what the overall countenance of the bust should be. Some players opt for a smile, while others want a more intimidating expression. Taylor chose something more neutral.

“I would say the bust portrays a sophisticated, confident look,” he said. “I didn’t want something intense and my kids voted against me smiling. So I went for something in between that had a bit of a scowl.”

Hammond admits that Taylor’s sculpture offers some unique elements artistically, and appreciates his good fortune to sculpt such a special subject.

“For someone like me who loves classical sculpture, Jason has a really fun head to sculpt,” said Hammond. “He’s got really strong, masculine features. He’s got a strong chin and a strong cheekbone, so for me it’s like a clinic. If I were teaching a class on head sculptures, he’s got all the strong, bony features that I would want in a model. It’s a really fun bust to sculpt.”

Taylor was in good hands working with Hammond, who started sculpting busts for the Hall of Fame in 2007. This is the 21st bust he has designed for the Hall since then, and has two more members of this year’s class still to go. As Hammond added or smoothed out bits of clay with his finely honed instruments, Taylor tried to remain as immobile as possible in front of him, not an easy task for someone always used to being on the go.

“It’s a lot of work,” said Taylor. “It’s a lot of work for Ben and it’s hard for me to sit in an uncomfortable stool or to stand here for hours, but the reason why I’m doing it is very much worth it, and I learned a lot about the process from him. Ben talked about his history making busts, some guys who were harder, some guys whose heads were bigger, and some of the challenges he faced. It’s been an interesting experience.”

It also marked the first stage of a three step process that eventually will result with Taylor being presented with the three iconic symbols that come with a Hall of Fame induction. First comes the presentation of the yellow jacket the evening before the induction ceremony, followed by the unveiling of the bust during the ceremony itself, and finally the presentation of the Hall of Fame ring, which will take place at halftime of a Dolphins home game this year. Now that the process has actually begun, it caused Taylor to reflect on what it means to be a Hall of Famer.

“Posing for the bust started to make it more real,” he said. “It’s been kind of surreal to this point. So it does make it a little more real, standing here and seeing your head being sculpted out of clay.

“It will be amazing when I see it displayed with all the other busts in Canton. At that point I’ll feel like I’m finally all the way there. The induction ceremony is over, you’ve got your jacket, and you unveiled the bust that’s taken hours and hours to make. I see it now in clay, but I won’t see it in bronze until it’s unveiled. That will be pretty cool, to be in that room and finally see the finished product.”

Even though Taylor has now joined the NFL’s immortals, he knows he didn’t make that journey by himself. And he hopes that his bust will serve as a reminder not just of his own success, but also of the many people who helped him achieve it.

“When fans see the bust, I want them to reflect on my career and the things we were able to accomplish,” said Taylor. “I say ‘we’ because my bust will be on display, but all of my teammates and coaches had a big part in getting it there. I want fans to think that we had some good times and some bad times together, that I played the game the right way and made a lot of plays to help us win. I was very blessed to be able to play in this league for 15 years but I know that any success I achieved wasn’t done alone.”

Unlike a lot of Hall of Famers who are almost by themselves in terms of representing their franchises in Canton, Taylor will join a host of other Dolphins there. And being a part of that legacy is especially meaningful to him.

“I saw the busts of all the other Dolphin greats when I went to the Hall about a month or so ago,” he said. “The history of the organization that I played in, and the nine other people from this franchise that made the Hall of Fame, it’s humbling to know you now have become one of them.

“Even when I was at the peak of my career when I was playing, I always looked at Dan (Marino), Coach Shula, Dwight (Stephenson), Nick (Buoniconti) and the rest of the Dolphins who are in the Hall when they came out to practice. I would always stare at them in awe, thinking, ‘man, those guys are Hall of Famers.’ So when I saw their busts, knowing I’d be joining them in the same room, it was the same feeling. It’s still a little weird to say that I’m in the same fraternity as Dan and those guys.”

Taylor played his college ball right up the street at Akron, but as an undersized defensive lineman playing at a relatively small school, he probably measured the distance to Canton in light years rather than miles.

“When I played at Akron I never thought I would have a bust in Canton,” said Taylor. “It never crossed my mind. I wanted to play this game for as long as I could, and hopefully make the NFL. You want to be the best in everything you do. I always wanted to chase being the best, but I still never envisioned that I would be in the Hall of Fame one day.

“It’s very humbling when you go up there now as a Hall of Famer, with the way they treat you. (Hall of Fame President) David Baker had the entire staff in the lobby, and when I walked in, they said welcome home.

“You’re not there as a visitor anymore; you’re there as a resident forever. The bust will outlast all of us. It’s really beyond my wildest dreams.”

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