JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (May 15, 2007) -- Jaguars running back Fred Taylor boarded the single-propeller, 15-seat plane in Africa, chatting about the safari he had just been on with Samari Rolle, Lito Sheppard and their wives.
A few minutes later, the group shared another unforgettable experience.
The plane door flew open at around 6,000 feet, causing panic and prayer before the pilot landed at a nearby runway.
"I thought that was it," Taylor said following the final day of Jacksonville's three-day minicamp. "I put my head down and started praying. The runway was about two miles away, but it seemed like it took 10 or 15 minutes to get there."
Taylor joked that it was the first time he felt like he was near death "since I was playing for (coach Tom) Coughlin."
Although startling, the brief scare did little to spoil Taylor's vacation.
He visited Zambia, Zimbabwe, and in South Africa the cities of Johannesburg and Cape Town during the two-week trip, getting several history lessons while trying to learn and experience various cultures.
"I don't think we can survive in Africa the way those people do," he said. "It's amazing how strong-minded and strong-willed they are."
The highlight -- maybe the low point as well -- was the safari through Kruger National Park, the largest game reserve in South Africa.
Taylor saw countless wildlife on the guided tour, including several big-game animals, and made lasting memories with his wife and friends. But the one he would like to forget is the plane ride back.
"That was some frightening stuff," he said.
Taylor's offseason included another major event. He signed a three-year contract extension, hoping to finish his career with the Jaguars.
Taylor ran for 1,146 yards and five touchdowns last year and averaged a career-best 5.0 yards a carry. He teamed with rookie Maurice Jones-Drew to run for 2,087 yards and 18 touchdowns and give Jacksonville one of the best running tandems in the league.
The backfield should get even more help this season because multipurpose back Greg Jones has returned from a knee injury.
Taylor, whose early career was marred by injuries, missed one game last season with a strained hamstring and sat out most of another.
He was voted the first alternate to the Pro Bowl, and credited his success to having spent the offseason working out near his home in South Florida. Although he still plans to travel back and forth over the next few months, he said he will stay in Jacksonville at least through next week to learn the team's new offense.
"I'm dedicated," Taylor said. "I don't want to get too far away from my stuff, but I want to catch up with the offense. I don't want to be too far behind. There's a lot of different terminology in there.
"I feel like next week, just being here, that will be enough time for me to learn the system and then I'll be able to decide if I'm going to stay longer or go away."
Coach Jack Del Rio applauded Taylor's decision to train -- even if it is part-time -- in Jacksonville.
"Fred is one of the leaders on the team," Del Rio said. "He's taken care of his business and came in (here) in great shape and brings a veteran presence that we like to have, and I'm glad to hear he's going to be spending more time with us."
Taylor wasn't so sure that would happen when the plane door flew open.
"I just started praying," he said.