Former Packers running back Jim Taylor passed away Saturday morning at the age of 83. Taylor personified toughness during his nine-year tenure with the Packers from 1958-1966 and finished his career as the franchise’s all-time leading rusher. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1976, the first player from the Lombardi Era to be enshrined in Canton.
Taylor played his college football at LSU and was selected by the Packers in the second round of the 1958 draft. He came into his prime in 1960, the second year of Lombardi’s tenure in Green Bay. That year, Taylor gained 1,101 yards and scored 11 touchdowns in a 12-game regular season. The Packers reached the NFL title game for the first time under Lombardi. That was the first of five straight seasons that Taylor topped 1,000 yards rushing, the first player in NFL history to accomplish that feat.
Taylor’s philosophy of football was simple. Even in the 60s, his attitude was considered a throwback to an earlier time. “You’ve got to sting those tacklers,” he was quoted as saying in the 1963 Packers Yearbook. “You’ve got to make tacklers respect you. Nobody’s going to hit me any harder than I’m going to hit them…I figure if you give a guy a little blast, the next time he won’t be so eager.”
Taylor’s best season came in 1962 when he led the league with 1,474 yards and 19 rushing touchdowns. That made Taylor the only player to beat out Jim Brown for a league rushing title during his NFL career. The Packers finished the season 13-1 and with Paul Hornung hampered by injuries throughout the season, Taylor was the engine that made Lombardi’s “Run to Daylight” offense go.
The 1962 NFL Championship Game against the New York Giants was the most memorable game of Taylor’s career. On a wind swept and frigid day at Yankee Stadium Taylor carried the ball 31 times for 85 yards and scored the only Green Bay touchdown of the game. During the game, Taylor bit his tongue after being tackled by Giants HOF linebacker Sam Huff and was swallowing blood throughout the game. He also required six stitches to close a deep cut on his elbow, but he kept on coming.
“Taylor isn’t human,” Huff told reporters after the 1962 title game. “No human being could have taken the punishment he got today. Every time he was tackled it was like crashing him down on a cement sidewalk because was as hard as pavement. But he kept bouncing up, snarling at us and asking for more.”
Taylor’s performance left a lasting impression on reporter Bud Lea who covered that game. “Jim Taylor really showed something that day,” Lea recalled. “He defined toughness. At the time, nobody knew of course that he had hepatitis. The Giants went after him on every single play. Sam Huff was on a mission. The Giants tried to kill him.”
Taylor topped 1,000 yards again in 1963 and 1964 although the Packers didn’t win a title. The following season, the Packers won their third championship under Lombardi and Taylor gained 96 yards in the title game and was named the game’s MVP by Sport magazine.
Taylor had contract issues with Lombardi who was also the team’s general manager. He was upset that highly touted rookies Donny Anderson and Jim Grabowski were given such large contracts before playing a down in the NFL. Taylor played out his option with the Packers in 1966 but still led the team in rushing and scored the first ever rushing touchdown in Super Bowl history.
The Packers left Taylor exposed in the 1967 expansion draft and his hometown New Orleans Saints selected him. He gained only 390 yards in his final NFL season although he caught 38 passes which tied his career best. When the Saints relegated Taylor to special teams during the 1968 preseason, he decided to retire.
In 10 career NFL seasons, Taylor gained 8,597 yards for a career average of 4.4 yards per carry. He had 83 rushing touchdowns and 10 touchdown catches. He was the Packers all-time leading rusher until Ahman Green passed him during the 2009 season, 43 years after his final season in Green Bay.
Taylor was named to the NFL’s All Decade Team of the 60s after his retirement. He entered the Packers Hall of Fame in 1975 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1976. He went on to a successful business career after football, settling down in his native Louisiana.
Perhaps it was Lombardi who summed up Taylor’s toughness and determination best. “Some players are satisfied just to make the team. Some want to be a star. But Jim wants to be the best fullback who ever lived.”