Cheers, not beers, thrown at Taylor

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- As he emerged from the tunnel Wednesday for a minicamp practice at the new Meadowlands stadium, Jason Taylor expected the worst from New York Jets fans.

"Here come the boos," Taylor told teammate Bryan Thomas. "Watch."

Taylor was right.

In his first exposure to a large Jets crowd -- the announced attendance was 12,000 -- the former Miami Dolphin heard boos. For years, Taylor made derisive comments toward Jets fans, insulting their intelligence. Now, for a moment, it sounded like an old Jets-Dolphins game.

But by the end of the day, Taylor was signing autographs, high-fiving fans along the field-level railing and soaking up the love. As he walked through the tunnel on the way back to the locker room, he removed his cleats and tossed them into the crowd.

It was a strange sight, surreal really. At one point during the two-hour practice, the fans in one section were chanting, "Ja-son Tay-lor! Ja-son Tay-lor!" And it wasn't a sarcastic cheer. This was akin to Big Papi being feted in the Bronx.

"They've been chanting my name up here for 12 years," Taylor said. "It's what they say after the name I'm working on changing."

Taylor, 35, who signed a two-year contract with the Jets after being shunned by his beloved Dolphins, didn't do much on the field. He's recovering from shoulder surgery, severely limiting his offseason participation. But he was out there with the defensive linemen, about an hour into practice, when teammate Kris Jenkins tried to play the role of peacemaker.

Jenkins nudged Taylor toward the crowd. Taylor resisted.

"We told him, 'You need to go over there and get it over with. Take it like a man,'" Jenkins said.

Playfully using Jenkins as a shield, a 380-pound bodyguard, Taylor approached a section of fans alongside the goal line. In an instant, they started cheering and chanting his name. It was his "Welcome-to-New-York" moment, a big embrace.

"I made [Jenkins] go with me," Taylor said. "I was worried they were going to draw me over there, and someone was going to throw a beer on me. I made him go with me. I figured they'd be afraid of him."

There was no beer, just cheer.

The Jets' acquisition of Taylor, the NFL's leading active sack artist, was highly controversial in both cities. Some ripped Jets management for welcoming its longtime nemesis, but Rex Ryan said he simply wanted to improve his pass rush. Taylor, who once said he'd rather retire than play for the Jets, waffled for two weeks before accepting the Jets' offer.

Taylor understands the booing, and he appreciates the cheers. Considering all the bad blood that was spilled over the years, he didn't expect his first open practice to be a start-to-finish lovefest.

"Don't get me wrong, the first 45 minutes out here weren't always easy," he said. "Hopefully, as time goes on, [the applause] will grow because I'll be making plays in December."

Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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