They went from rivals to teammates to rivals again. But the rivalry is different this time, different because D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Jason Taylor became friends along the way.
On Sunday, they meet for the eighth and final time, the Jets' Pro Bowl left tackle versus the Dolphins' retiring icon. It began in 2006, when Ferguson was a rookie and Taylor was the best -- the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
There were some rough games for Ferguson, but he got better, Taylor got older, and the rivalry tilted toward Ferguson. In 2010, the Jets stunned everyone by signing Taylor, Public Enemy No. 1 among Jets fans. Suddenly, there was only one locker between them in the same locker room. It was surreal, kind of like Roger Clemens joining the Yankees.
After being around Taylor for an entire season and practicing against him every day in training camp, Ferguson developed a healthy respect for him. That was clear this week as he talked about Taylor.
To appreciate that, you have to know Ferguson. He always speaks respectfully about his upcoming opponent, but he usually doesn't say too much. But not this time. His admiration for Taylor was apparent.
"This is going to be the ending of ... I can't say 'chapter,' but the ending of a volume, because we've put enough chapters together to make a pretty good story," Ferguson told me. "To me, it reads like a book: Young guy versus savvy vet ... They duel ... Climax ... Suddenly, they're on the same team ... A little drama ... He leaves the team ... You finish it. Now this is his last game. It begins the way it ends.
"Pretty good," he added, liking the story and the way he told it.
Ferguson expects his frenemy to be revved up for his finale.
"I think he'll be emotionally charged up," Brick said. "I think he'll play a last-game type of game. He'll bring that type of energy. We've had a lot of history, and I'm excited to play this game.
"It's a rivalry out of respect because he's accomplished so much in his career," Ferguson continued. "It motivated me to play my best ball because he didn't make it easy for me."
They faced each other every day in Cortland, N.Y., the summer of 2010, often spending time after practice sharing trade secrets.
"I remember watching them interact," Jets OL coach Bill Callahan said. "They'd talk about this move, that move, how to counter it. Their one-on-one battles were interesting. Brick would try something new, and Jason would try a new move. Then they'd sit and talk about it. They're such great pros."
Who knew that Taylor would return to the Dolphins? Their sudden familiarity with each other made the last meeting, Oct. 17 at MetLife Stadium, a "chess match," according to Ferguson. Brick won it, as Taylor finished with only one tackle and no sacks.
Taylor has seven sacks this season, 139.5 for his career -- two behind Michael Strahan on the all-time list. He'd love get a couple against the team he's always hated, against the lineman he learned to like.
"The rivalry," Ferguson said, "is still there."