Times Staff Writer

Flawless as he might look to his “Dancing With the Stars” fans, Jason Taylor has a permanent blemish. There’s a tiny scar between his eyes, a 20-year-old wound incurred not on the football field, but, of all places, on the dance floor.

“Back when I was about 10 years old, I was dancing to Michael Jackson at a little party,” said Taylor, 33, an All-Pro defensive end for the Miami Dolphins. “I was a kid and had no inhibitions. I tried to spin and slipped on the floor . . . and I fell and hit the speaker.”

After that, he turned his attention to safer pursuits. Namely, corkscrewing quarterbacks into the turf. Taylor, the 2006 NFL defensive player of the year, has had double-digit quarterback sack totals in five of the last six seasons and, at a sleek 6 feet 6 and 240 pounds, is proof that a dominating defensive lineman doesn’t need to be built like a condo in cleats.


Nowhere is his grace and coordination on better display than on ABC’s television hit show, where over the last few weeks he has danced his way into America’s consciousness.

The day after he and dance partner Edyta Sliwinska scored a near-perfect 27 on their mambo, Taylor’s website -- -- registered more than 300,000 hits, roughly 50 times what he would get on a typical off-season day.

“Dancing With the Stars,” which is in its sixth season, is among television’s most popular shows. It airs Mondays and Tuesdays and finished third and fourth in last week’s Nielsen ratings, behind two “American Idol” segments. Monday night, Taylor and Sliwinska received 23 out of a possible 30 points for their jive, good for fifth place among the 10 couples still in the competition.

Seemingly overnight, Taylor has an entirely new fan base -- mostly women, who know very little if anything about his six Pro Bowls, or his rise from small-school standout at the University of Akron to the NFL’s leading sacker this decade and recipient of the league’s Walter Payton man-of-the-year award last season.

“The funny thing is, I’m not the football player anymore, I’m the football guy that dances now,” he said. “It’s ‘the “Dancing With the Stars” guy.’ ”

Emmitt Smith warned him about that. In 2006, the former Dallas Cowboys star danced away with the show’s championship disco-ball trophy.


“He was the all-time leading rusher, and all the things he did in the NFL, and he’ll be a Hall of Famer,” Taylor said. “But he said, ‘Everywhere I go now, I’m just the “Dancing With the Stars” guy.’ And he’s cool with that.

“Football’s only so big. The world’s much bigger.”

For Taylor, that took some convincing. When striking the deal with ABC, the guy who did the serious dancing was Taylor’s agent Gary Wichard, who had to coax his client to even consider the show.

“I think my exact quote was, ‘Hell no,’ ” Taylor said. “I don’t dance. I sit in the clubs. I sit at weddings. I sit at bar mitzvahs. Whatever it is, I just sit there. Everyone tries to pull me out there. They get their little ‘Soul Train’ line going and want you to dance in the middle. Every once in a while I’ll go in there and just bob my head. But you’re 6-6, you’re long, you look goofy. I just never did it.”

Likewise, Wichard had to convince Taylor’s wife, Katina, who was worried her husband might flop. After all, at their wedding, the Taylors just swayed during their first dance like kids at a junior prom.

But Wichard quietly pushed ahead, confident he could nudge Taylor into agreeing.

“I looked at it as an opportunity for Jason to open up to a new world,” Wichard said. “This is a Hall of Fame career he’s on, and we certainly know there are women that watch NFL football. But the broadest audience is watching prime-time TV, so obviously this is really where you get discovered across the board.”

Taylor definitely has some Hollywood in him. He showed up at a Van Nuys deli for breakfast with a reporter last week driving a white Bentley sports car. He’s renting a house in Beverly Hills during the shooting of the show.


In the weeks leading up to the show, he and Sliwinska spent about six hours a day practicing their first two dances, the fox trot and mambo. After the first two weeks, they established themselves as favorites, along with former Olympic skater Kristi Yamaguchi and R&B; singer Mario.

And Taylor has gotten some praise from some unlikely sources -- namely, those in the testosterone-charged Dolphins locker room. “I talked to Vonnie Holliday the other day,” Taylor said, referring to a fellow Dolphins defensive lineman, “and he said, ‘Man, I turned on the TV on Monday night and I said, ‘Somehow, he slipped by with the fox trot. But tonight with the mambo, he’ll totally expose himself.’ And he was like, ‘Dang! You did your thing! I can’t even say anything! You must have been taking dance lessons on the side or something!’ ”

No sooner had Taylor gotten backstage than he received a breathless text message from first-year Dolphins Coach Tony Sparano, who sounded as if he was breaking down the dance as if it were game film.

“Great job,” Sparano wrote. “You look quick. Keep eating. You’re taking coaching well. Talk to you soon.”

From the start, Taylor was concerned about the reaction he’d get from other NFL players about his dances.

“Every time I’d show him a move, he was like, ‘That’s a little too weird, too far away from my comfort zone, too feminine,’ ” Sliwinska said.


“So the most difficult part was to get over that initial embarrassment. But once he did that and started to feel comfortable with the movement, he just let go completely. That was the best part.”

The pair got a standing ovation from the studio audience for their mambo, and judges credited Taylor with being a strong lead -- something he said was “smoke and mirrors” by Sliwinska, who has been a professional partner in every season of the show.

“She’s great at choreographing it, making it look like I know what I’m doing,” he said. “There are parts where I’m lifting her or dragging her or whatever, doing the manly parts. And she does all the twirls and the leg kicks and the girlie parts. The chemistry and pieces are there for both of us.”

Taylor jokes that if the Dolphins were smart, they’d sell No. 99 jerseys with sequins or rhinestones next season.

And, for that matter, maybe he’ll come up with a new dance.

A sack dance, naturally.