PHOTO GALLERY: The best of Ike
A week ago Ike Taylor was starting to wonder what his future would hold. After 11 years with the Steelers, he was seeing moves being made, including Troy Polamalu and Heath Miller signing new contracts and other players being let go.
The cornerback who has heard plenty of criticism throughout his playing career was now hearing talk that a decision might need to be made on his future to help the team get under the salary cap. But all was quiet. He didn't know what was happening.
His confusion led him to make a phone call, one that many make when uncertainty arises in their lives. He called "Pops."
In this case though, the phone call to "Pops" was a little different. It meant calling Steelers' Chairman Dan Rooney on his cell phone and talking things out.
"I called Mr. Rooney last week and told him exactly how I felt about the team and myself," said Taylor. "I told him how I felt about the situation and I wanted to be there. He understood my frustration. Last week I was very frustrated because I saw a lot of transactions going on throughout the NFL, starting with the Steelers. I was like dang, what is going on? Tell me so I can get ready.
"I got frustrated and told Mr. Rooney how I felt. This is bigger than football. I felt a lot inside. He said he understood my frustration and just as bad as I wanted to stay, he wanted me to stay too. He said we had to work something out. He didn't have to tell me twice. I had an idea then I would be back. I looked at the worst case scenario, but until the deal was signed I wasn't sure what was going on."
The deal Taylor is referring to isn't an extension. He still has just one year remaining on his contract. What he did though was continue find a way to make sure he finishes his career in Pittsburgh, and that was by taking a reported $4.25 million pay cut. It was a sacrifice that not many would be willing to make, but he didn't think twice about it.
"Taking a pay cut wasn't an issue," said Taylor after finishing up a workout in Florida with Coach Tom Shaw, his offseason training guru. "Towards the end of the contract you are going to get released or asked to take a pay cut. I look it as I have been paid enough money for them to ask me for a pay cut. Being where I am, I feel like the money part wasn't an issue.
"I understand the business side of the NFL and how the Steelers work. When you get older you have to put your pride aside and know that this is a young man's sport regardless of how good you feel you are. That is just the nature of the game. All I can do is go out and prove I can play with the young guys any day of the week. That is just me. I am just fortunate enough to be able to retire with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"It would have killed me not to stay here. Soulfully it would have killed me. By any means I wanted it done."
Taylor said there was a lot that played into him taking the pay cut, but it all centered on his love for the Steelers organization. From Dan and Art Rooney, to defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, to his teammates, staff and even his seven-year old son Ivan who wanted him to stay put.
"One of the key reasons why I stayed was my relationship with the Rooneys," said Taylor. "When you can call Mr. Rooney on his cell phone and tell him how you feel, put it a certain way, that is rare. It's a special bond you can't put into words.
"Then there is Coach LeBeau, one of my favorite people in my life. I listen to him talk, watch him walk, how he interacts with people. I watch everything he does. He knows. If he tells me something he is telling me for a reason. He has been through it all. When he talks I listen and listen carefully."
Taylor is smart enough to know how fortunate he is. In today's world of free agency, where three years can be a long stop with a team, he will be able to play his entire career with the team that drafted him in the fourth-round in 2003.
For a player that often times sees the Steelers of the 1970s, players like Joe Greene, John Stallworth, and Mel Blount who spent their entire careers in black and gold, he gets what it means to be able to join that fraternity of life-long Steelers.
"It means a lot. It's rare territory," said Taylor. "Playing with one team for 12 years is rare. I know I am very fortunate. You look at those players in the 70s, guys who still make their home in Pittsburgh, the continuity, the blue collar work ethic. It's about building and having a relationship with guys on and off the field. I understood that a lot near the latter part of my career.
"This is a whole different thing to be here your whole career, especially with free agency going on. I want to retire with Troy, with 'Pops', aka Dan Rooney, with Coach LeBeau, with the guys I came in with. It's a family and it means a lot to me. I have been talking to Troy over the last few weeks. He and I have been talking about being able to retire from one team. I don't know many teammates that have been able to do that. Three Super Bowl appearances and two Super Bowl wins and hopefully we can go for three and put Pittsburgh at seven."
The 2014 season very well could be Taylor's last. He said the only way he would continue to play after his contract expires at the end of the year is if the Steelers want him back. He won't go anywhere else.
"I don't want my name on the back of somebody else's jersey," said Taylor. "My name belongs on a Steelers jersey. I want my name to represent the Pittsburgh Steelers. The reality is I wanted to stay here. You hear from guys who come from other teams and they understand why we are winners, the unselfishness in the locker room, what it takes when you walk in the locker room and put your pride aside. You do that and that's why it's a family.
"I would like to go out as a starter and I feel like I have an opportunity to do that. I would like to go out winning a Super Bowl, and I feel like I have an opportunity to do that. I could have had other options. People talk about loyalty fogging your decisions sometimes. When it comes to Pittsburgh my decisions are always going to be foggy because I love it here."