The NCAA basketball brackets were announced on Sunday, and 65 teams were invited to the Big Dance. And while some in the sports world are disappointed to find their dance cards empty this week, Jason Taylor is wondering how his dance card got so full.
"I never really said yes," Taylor said, standing in front of a small San Fernando Valley dance studio outside Los Angeles. "I just kind of didn't say no loud enough, I guess."
Taylor becomes the only active NFL player to participate in the dance competition, as Emmitt Smith and Jerry Rice cut a rug as retirees. Taylor got advice from Smith about what to expect, and he told Taylor he wouldn't regret his decision because it was so much fun and expands one's circle of friends.
"He was amazed at how much, with all that he had done on the football field, how much 'Dancing with the Stars' really made him a household name in a whole different way," Taylor said. "And now he's known as Emmitt, the guy from 'Dancing with the Stars' and not the football player."
While he got encouragement from the Season 3 champion, Taylor has found it harder to win instant approval from his Dolphins teammates.
"I thought they would be harsher," he said. "But the initial joking turned into support. You know, they've really been supportive. I think they are going to vote and try to keep me on so they can be entertained on a weekly basis."
The show, taped in the entertainment capital of the world, could open a door to a new career path post-football. But Taylor made it clear that won't happen in 2008, as he will head back to South Florida for another season with the Dolphins.
"Once this is over I'll go back to football," he said, "and if opportunities come up down the road to do something that I think fits me, then sure."
Taylor's day begins with an hour at the gym before heading to the studio for the first of two three-hour practice sessions with partner Edyta Sliwinska. The professional dancer from Poland has appeared on every season of the show, and the producers paired her with a football player who hadn't danced since an unfortunate spill during a Michael Jackson song over 20 years ago left a scar above his eyebrow.
"For a person with no experience, he's so natural," Sliwinska said. "I've never seen anything like that."
Sliwinska, who designed the pair's outfits, said Taylor's biggest problem is that he's afraid to look too much like a dancer.
"The dancing is fine. He looks like he was born to do it -- he's very natural and very coordinated."
Taylor, who arrived at the studio in comfortable moccasins before changing into his heeled dancing shoes, said dancing six hours a day has left his feet in constant pain.
"It keeps me up at night" he told NFL Network.
All that soreness, however, may benefit the Dolphins, as Taylor said the footwork, agility and balance required for dancing will only help him on the playing field. If the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year gets even better next season, players might have their agents put a call into the producers of the show.
"I doubt I'm the only active player ever asked to do it, but I'm probably the only one that's brave enough or stupid enough to say yes," Taylor said.
Sliwinska tried to calm Taylor's nerves about their first 90-second Foxtrot routine on national television. She advised him to forget about the crowd and pretend they were dancing alone.
Even with shaky nerves and blistered feet, the show went on Monday night. And Sliwinska's words must have worked. Taylor received positive reviews from the three judges.