The Super Bowl match-up this season doesn't surprise Fred Taylor a bit.
Having played for both of the coaches in Sunday's game – New York Giants Head Coach Tom Coughlin during the first five seasons of his career and New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick the last two – the former Jaguars running back said there's a reason those teams are playing for the NFL Championship.
It starts at the top of each organization.
"They have a presence," Taylor said of Coughlin and Belichick Friday as the Giants and the Patriots prepared to play in Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis Sunday at 6:30 p.m.
"What they demand and what they can get in return – when you put it out there to a man and say, 'We're all men in here and we have to deal with it – this is your job' – guys respond. The amount of hours they put in . . . people call them crazy. Coach Coughlin lives in the stadium. But it pays off.
"You can't mask success. It takes a lot of hard work."
Taylor, who retired last July after 13 NFL seasons – 11 with the Jaguars and the final two with New England – said while he signed with New England in 2009 partially in hopes of playing in a Super Bowl for the perennial contenders, he wants one thing made clear:
Although it's not easy knowing he won't ever play in a Super Bowl, and although the Patriots made the game this year after losing in the post-season the last two seasons, he doesn't regret retiring when he did.
"It's easy for me to swallow that pill," Taylor said. "I haven't called any of my former teammates to congratulate them. I'm happy for them. I'm extremely happy for them, but I don't want to hear a sob story. I know they wish they could have done it my last year. We had our shot. We had home-field advantage (last season) and all of that stuff. We just didn't do it. It's not for everyone. I can swallow this pill. I'm a big guy. I can handle it.
"I'm not mad. Of course, I want a ring, but that doesn't mean all hope is done. There is a possibility I can be back in the coaching mode at some point. I love the game and I know the game.
"I'd love to have one as a player, but those days are done. I'm not sitting here saying, 'I should have played one more year.' I'll never say that. I had my time."
Taylor said although he is close with people from each team – he still stays in close contact with Giants running backs coach Gerald Ingram, his position coach in Jacksonville from 1998-2002 – he has no real rooting interest.
But he did say he is happy to see Coughlin in the game for a second time in five seasons.
"I'm so excited and happy for him," Taylor said. "His head was on the guillotine Week 14, 15 and 16. Everybody was calling for his head. Now, it's just like in 2007 – his team heats up and five years later, he is back in the dance."
Taylor said he – like other young players – sometimes had a love-hate relationship with Coughlin, and said their relationship strained a bit in 2001, when Coughlin kept him active throughout the season despite a severe groin injury.
But Taylor said their relationship remained strong, and he said in time the wound healed. When the Patriots and Giants played in the preseason in 2010, they spoke after the game.
"After the game, I hustled over to him," Taylor said. "I told him, 'Coach, I understand it all now. I thank you. I respect you. I love you a whole lot. I'm a lot wiser now, and I understand what you were trying to do.' It kind of squashed the whole notion of a love-hate thing. I really look at him as a father figure and someone I respect."
Taylor said the Super Bowl hit home somewhat this past Tuesday. While cleaning his garage in South Florida he came across a box of memorabilia and letters, when he surpassed the 10,000-yard rushing mark. During that time, Taylor said he was busy with life and football and the constant focus on the next game, next carry and next season, but on Tuesday, Taylor said he came across an unopened letter that caught his eye.
The letter was from the New York Giants.
"I said, 'Man, I wonder if this is T.C.," he said.
It was, and Taylor said in the letter Coughlin told Taylor he was extremely proud of him and that "I was making him really proud."
"He said he was excited that in my career I was able to fight and push and get to the level I did," Taylor said. "I had to fight back a tear or two. I get a little sensitive sometimes, and it means a lot for him to have taken the time out. What got me was to see the New York Giants envelope.
"For him to have taken the time and as busy as he always is – you know Coach Coughlin; he puts in the hours – for him to have taken that kind of time out to say, 'Congratulations,' that's something that meant a lot."
Also on Friday, Taylor offered a few thoughts on Sunday's game:
*A key will be the health of Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski: "The offense goes through Gronkowski. Everyone says, '(Wide receiver Wes) Welker.' No. It's Gronkowski. Coach Belichick is one of those geniuses who says, 'No. We're going to do it until you stop it.' We're going to force the issue. Stop it.'"
*A key match-up may be the Giants' linebackers/secondary against the Patriots tight ends and receivers. "They (the Giants' linebackers) are going to have to step up and defend those seam passes. And the secondary is going to have to be on point. It's going to be a good game."
*Another key match-up: the Giants' defensive line and pass rush against the Patriots' offensive front. "I know when I was there they said the Giants were one team that gave them fits because of how they played them in that '07 Super Bowl," Taylor said. "You can't account for pressure. You can play any defense you want to play if you get pressure up front – ala, the Indianapolis Colts. If you get pressure, you can call up anything."
Taylor also said he had a couple of opportunities to play in 2011.
"There were some times last year I almost came back, but I stayed away from working out and the guys for the sole purpose of not wanting to go back," he said.
Taylor said his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, received a few "buzzes" from teams, but he didn't speak with Rosenhaus much about returning.
"I didn't want to hear it," Taylor said.
BEYOND WORDS: New secondary coach Tony Oden is one of two Jaguars coaches who have won a Super Bowl ring, with the other being assistant defensive line coach Paul Spicer.
Oden won as an assistant with New Orleans in 2009, the same year Spicer won as a player with the Saints when he signed with the team for the postseason.
Oden on Friday described the Super Bowl-winning moment:
"I don't know that I'm articulate enough to accurately describe it. Great. Awesome. Phenomenal. Every adjective you can think of magnified times 10. The thing I remember the most is when I finally realized during the game I could take a deep breath and say, 'Oh, we won it.' It was all the way at the end. We were up by 14, but it was (against Colts quarterback) Peyton Manning. We knocked the ball out on fourth down and I knew we'd won. We were on the field, celebrating, but when it really, really truly hit me was when we were in the locker room. The TV was on and that commercial came on, 'New Orleans Saints, you're the Super Bowl Champions. How does it feel?' I said, 'Oh my God. We just won the Super Bowl. We're all naked and we're saying, 'We just won the Super Bowl. That's when it finally hit me.''
CONNECTIONS: With Coughlin as the Giants' head coach, it's not surprising there are many players with Jaguars connections in Sunday's game. Here's a list:
*Giants: Coughlin, defensive coordinator Perry Fewell (1998-2002), offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride (1995-1996), Ingram (1995-2002), strength and conditioning coach Jerry Palmieri (1995-2002), quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan (2002-03), safety Deon Grant (2004-06), cornerback Jimmy Kennedy (2008), punter Steve Weatherford (2008), cornerback Michael Coe (2009-2010).
*Patriots: center Dan Connolly 2005, wide receiver Tiquan Underwood (2009-11), linebacker Tracy White (2005).