The credentials on the gridiron speak volumes.
USA Today High School All-American. Two-time college All-American, first at offensive guard and then at tackle. Lombardi Award winner. First-round draft choice. Super Bowl champion.
But when the 12,000 National Football Foundation members received their ballots for the Class of 2017 Hall of Fame – which numbered 75 Football Bowl Subdivision candidates -- they had more to consider than former Notre Dame standout Aaron Taylor’s success on the field.
There’s the Aaron Taylor Impact Fund, which strives to bridge the gap between those who have and those who need. In the spring of 2001, Taylor participated in a five-month volunteer placement program, teaching English to high school students in South America.
Taylor has won several awards mentoring children and for his work with athletes transitioning out of their sport. He was at the forefront of creating the Joe Moore Award, which honors the late great Pittsburgh Panther/Notre Dame offensive line coach and rewards the nation’s top offensive line.
He’s even actively involved in promoting awareness for sleep apnea while continuing his work as a CBS Sports football analyst.
“Based on his superior play on the field, there is no doubt that Aaron is a legitimate candidate for the Hall of Fame,” said Irish star and 1987 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown, who was elected to the Hall in 2009. “Even more impressive is what he has done off the field, not only for college football but more importantly, for children and others in need.”
“I applaud the NFF and the Hall of Fame for their focus on not just great football players, but great men – men who carry the ideals of football into society and contribute to their communities,” said Jimbo Covert, a 2003 Hall of Fame inductee and a fellow Joe Moore disciple with the Pittsburgh Panthers.
“With all of his charity work and his dedication to his family, Aaron embodies that notion and is an obvious candidate for the Hall of Fame.”
Ever since his childhood in Concord, Calif., where he often admitted to sliding in and out of trouble and coming close to choosing a dangerous path, Taylor has expressed his gratitude for the opportunities that have come his way.
It’s no wonder that he sums up the feelings he’ll have if selected for the Hall of Fame on Jan. 6 in Tampa by saying that he would accept the award with the emotions of gratitude and humility.
“The thing I think about is my teammates,” said Taylor, 43, from his home in southern California where he resides with his wife, Lina, a former professional volleyball player, and their two boys, ages six and seven.
“As nice as it is to be recognized individually, what drives me and what has kept me involved in the game and motivated me is the people that are involved with it.”
Tune into a college football game on CBS with Taylor behind the microphone and his personality shines through. There is sheer enjoyment in his voice for his work some 17 years after starting all 75 games in which he played for the Green Bay Packers (1994-97) and San Diego Chargers (1998-99) after emerging from Notre Dame as a quad-captain on the great ’93 team and the No. 16 overall pick in the ’94 draft.
“I’m 43-years-old and still on scholarship,” laughed Taylor heartily. “The fundamental element of football that unifies all of us that played the game, coached the game, participated directly in it is that you’re enmeshed in this sport.
“What makes this sport so great is that it’s a people game. I enjoy my analysis because it reminds me of everything that this game has given me. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.”
Nobody gave more effort with more determination than Taylor. He learned it on the high school football fields where he grew and developed in the great Concord De La Salle High School football program under legendary head coach Bob Ladouceur.
“It’s a sport built upon discipline, and I enjoyed that,” said Taylor of his development, which continued at Notre Dame under two of the game’s greatest disciplinarians – head coach Lou Holtz and Moore, whose tough-love approach was right in Taylor’s wheelhouse.
When Moore told Taylor he would be moving from left guard after an All-American junior season with the Irish to left tackle in his senior season, his first reaction – reflecting back on his days as a rebellious youth – was to object.
“I fought it tooth and nail, and Coach Moore wasn’t hearing any of my rationale,” Taylor recalled. “He could give a crap anyway. I was like, ‘Are you sure this is what you want? Isn’t there anyone better to play tackle?’”
Yet as Taylor reflects on the conversation with the cantankerous Moore nearly a quarter-century ago, he quickly relents.
“Maybe that was a conversation I had in my head as to what I would have said,” said Taylor, bursting into his baritone laugh. “Probably what happened was I said, ‘Yes, sir,’ and walked away.
“But it was a challenge. I really struggled figuring out a stance I was comfortable with. We ran-blocked for the most part, which I was comfortable doing in a right-handed stance but was terrible for pass-blocking. We pass-blocked so infrequently I just worked around it.”
Taylor actually credits former Irish assistant and son of Lou Holtz – Skip – with helping him clear the mental hurdle of the new stance. But it’s Moore who remains at the forefront of just about every assignment and challenge Taylor has faced since his playing days with the Irish.
That’s why Taylor was the driving force behind the creation of the Joe Moore Award, the first and only college football award designed to reward a unit on the gridiron as opposed to an individual.
“It was long overdue,” said Taylor of the award. “I had a desire to honor and preserve the legacy of a man that meant so much to me and so many other guys.”
Taylor said he dragged his feet on a project that was the original brainchild of Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz.
“(Ferentz), who played for Coach Moore, tried to do something about 10 years ago and it didn’t materialize,” Taylor said. “I used his inspiration and one thing led to another.
“I finally called (Moore’s) son, James, and committed to their football camp in Pittsburgh. I’d been doing a lot of speaking and I always would finish the talk with a story about Joe, what he meant to me and the things that he taught me.
“I’d always get emotional. Yet at the same time, I was too self-absorbed and self-important to make time to go out to this football camp that honors him because it was a difficult flight from San Diego.”
Taylor finally put his foot down…on himself, so to speak.
“I finally called bullshit on myself and threw a flag on myself, called James and said, ‘No matter what, I’m committing to this. I’ll be there. I give you my word.’”
As Taylor looked into the ins and outs of creating an award for Moore, he reached a crossroads. Do we really need another college football offensive line award?
“That’s when the light bulb went off,” Taylor said. “With all the other college football awards out there in the consummate team sport in this country, and with the consummate position within the consummate team sport, every award was an individual award.
“I said, ‘We need to do a group or a unit award.’ That’s the only thing Joe would have approved of and it was the only thing that he valued. That was the brainchild of the idea.”
Alabama claimed the inaugural Joe Moore Award in 2015. Finalists included Arkansas, Iowa, Michigan State, Notre Dame and Stanford.
While spread-offense teams will always have difficulty winning the Joe Moore Award, the Irish were a worthy finalist in the panelists’ minds.
“We identified the criteria and principles of Joe Moore, which were toughness, effort, teamwork, physicality, tone-setting, and finishing,” Taylor said. “For the record, I thought Harry Hiestand’s group did a better job than anybody in the country at finishing.
“Blocking to and through the whistle, running down field, pealing guys off the pile, staying engaged 20 yards off the ball…It was outstanding. There were teams close, but all of us to a person felt Notre Dame did that criteria the best.”
Today, Taylor can only sit back and admire the work of the young men in the trenches after his professional career came to a close just six years in due to an assortment of knee, shoulder and back injuries.
“I’m pretty banged up,” said Taylor, who’s had five knee surgeries. “I feel it.”
Opportunities to come back to his alma mater have been infrequent. His broadcasting career continues to make a sojourn back to South Bend difficult, although his wife and two children, with another one on the way, have planned a spring of ’17 visit.
There’s a good chance he’ll make that trip as one of Notre Dame’s newest College Football Hall of Fame inductees. He joins former Irish linebacker Bob Crable and wide receiver/running back Raghib Ismail among the list of nominees.
“I was nominated a couple of years ago,” Taylor said. “This time, it’s been more special because of the healthy respect I have for everybody on that list. It’s a pretty impressive list of people.”
Among those Taylor will be competing against – 15 former players were inducted in 2015 – are, in addition to Crable and Ismail: Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning, Florida State linebacker Derrick Brooks, Miami defensive tackle Jerome Brown, running backs Keith Byars (Ohio State) and Eric Dickerson (SMU), Miami linebacker Ray Lewis and Purdue defensive back Rod Woodson.
“I’ve got 27 confirmed votes,” Taylor laughed.
He’d love to share in the award with his former teammates, just Moore taught him.
“I would happy to accept that on behalf of Lindsey Knapp, Jordy Halter, Tim Ruddy, Mike McGlinn…all the guys that helped me along the way,” Taylor said.
“Jeff Burris, Bryant Young…all the guys that helped me when my confidence was down and I was tired and didn’t think I had any more to give. That’s what it would mean me.”
Taylor counts his blessings, including the amazing fortune of playing for three of the most storied football organizations in the history of the game: De La Salle High School, Notre Dame and Green Bay.
“A lot of people profess family, but very few people embody that and practice it,” Taylor said. “That was the similarity between Notre Dame and Green Bay.
“The principle of teamwork and what’s possible when a bunch of people come together and sacrifice personal gain for the greater good…I’ve been a part of that through the sport of football. I’ve also got a really good marriage, and that’s a two-person team.
“The common bond among all good teams is trust. In the inevitable times of stress and adversity, good teams are there for each other. They find a way. Those were the things that united De La Salle, Green Bay and Notre Dame.”
And make Taylor a worth Hall of Fame selection.