Fred Taylor had been practicing all week to make sure he didn't cry during his final press conference as a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
It didn't work.
He paused, overcome with emotion, as a gathered crowd of Jaguars executives, players and staff members waited. Then, tearfully, Taylor began thanking the people who shaped him as he became the best running back the Jaguars have ever had, and one of the best ever to play the game.
Taylor signed a ceremonial one-day contract with the Jaguars on Friday, then retired with the team that drafted him. After a 13-year NFL career, he is done playing.
Taylor ranks 15th in all time rushing yards among NFL players, with 2,534 carries for 11,695 yards. He rushed for 66 touchdowns in 153 games. He also holds Jaguars records for career yards with 11,271, single-season yards with 1,572 in 2003 and single-game yards with 234 against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2000.
''He really was the heart and soul of this team in some of our early years,'' Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver said. ''We want to strive to get back to where we were back in those days. Fred Taylor clearly is a standard bearer to represent that.''
Weaver said Taylor's jersey will be the second to be placed in The Pride of the Jaguars, Jacksonville's ring of honor. It will go beside former offensive lineman Tony Bosellis.
Fred Taylor (Getty Images)
Taylor spent the first 11 years of his career with the Jaguars after being drafted ninth overall in 1998. He made an impact immediately, rushing for 1,223 yards that season, which is still a record for Jaguars rookies.
''What the Jaguars are today is what Fred was talking about,'' running back Maurice Jones-Drew said. ''A team that we just live and die through him. And were going to keep doing it.''
Injuries plagued the early part of Taylor's career, and might have kept him from setting the NFL record for rushing yards. He missed six games in 1999, three with a knee injury to start the 2000 season. Taylor suffered a gruesome groin injury in 2001, in which the muscle was torn off the bone, which sidelined him for 14 games.
Taylor finished his career with the Patriots, playing sparsely, out often due to injuries. He made a point of thanking the Patriots coach Bill Belichick, the Kraft family, which owns the team, and the organization.
Friday morning, a highlight video shown before Taylor spoke, featured his best plays. It included a 90-yard touchdown run and 39-yard touchdown reception against the Miami Dolphins in a Jaguars playoff win after the 1999 season. A broadcaster screamed in the background, Where did this guy come from?
Taylor spoke eloquently about where he came from, a two-bedroom apartment in Belle Glade where his grandmother raised five grandchildren.
''She took her last 60 dollars and gave it to me so I could try out for a Pop Warner team,'' Taylor said. ''Man, I was sorry, I was sorry. I played defensive tackle and tight end. I couldn't catch to save my life.''
He wept as he thanked his wife, who sat beside him, for molding his character.
''I really believe that had she not come into my life, I would have still been on the left side of the highway, lost, not knowing which way to go,'' Taylor said.
Taylor apologized to the handful of former teammates in attendance for not being the kind of leader he thought he should have been. He said he failed.
But when Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis spoke, there was no hint of that in his words. Instead Taylor, a locker room leader the entire time Mathis played with him, inspired them.
''We salute you,'' Mathis said. ''We love you, we appreciate you, we honor you. This is a day to celebrate all that you was, all that you are and all that you're still going to be. Freddy T, we love you, man.''