Jim Taylor was a bruising fullback for the Green Bay Packers who mauled defenders and buoyed the offense for coach Vince Lombardi in the late 1950s and early ‘60s.
Taylor died unexpectedly Saturday at a Baton Rouge, La., hospital, the Packers said. He was 83.
A native of Baton Rouge, the rugged Taylor is remembered as perhaps the last great fullback in professional football, a player tasked as much with carrying the football as blocking before the modern game divvied those responsibilities. He played nine seasons with the Packers from 1958-66 and departed Green Bay as the franchise’s all-time leading rusher.
His records would stand for generations.
“The Green Bay Packers family was saddened to learn of Jim Taylor’s passing this morning,” Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy said in a statement. “He was a gritty, classic player on the Lombardi teams and a key figure of those great championship runs. One of the best runners of his era, he later was greatly appreciated by multiple generations of Packers fans during his many returns to Lambeau Field with his fellow alumni. Our deepest condolences go out to his wife, Helen, and their family and friends.”
Taylor was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1976, the first Packers player from the Lombardi era to receive that honor.
“Jim Taylor lived life the same way he played football, with passion, determination and love for all he did," Hall of Fame president David Baker said. "The entire Hall of Fame family mourns the loss of a true hero of the game and extends heartfelt condolences to his wife Helen during this difficult time. While Jim’s spirit forever resides at the Hall, we will miss his smile that would light up a room.”
Taylor joined the Packers as a second-round pick in 1958 after a brief collegiate career at Louisiana State. He rushed for 762 yards and 12 touchdowns in his second and final season with the Tigers, earning All-American honors along the way.
For his career he finished with 1,314 yards and 20 total touchdowns.
“I am very much interested in playing professional football,” Taylor wrote in response to a letter from Packers scouting director Jim Vainisi in November of 1957. “Football is a great sport and I enjoy playing it. Yes, I would be interested in playing with the Green Bay Packers. My military status is 1A Category 4. Yes, I will be able to play pro ball before entering the service. I prefer playing in either the United States or Canada. Fullback is the position I feel I can play better.”
Though Lombardi arrived in Green Bay one year after Taylor, it didn’t take long before the legendary coach utilized the young fullback as the focal point of his offense, even with fellow star Paul Hornung sharing the backfield.
Beginning in 1960, his third year in the league, Taylor became just the second player in franchise history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season, with Tony Canadeo being the first in 1949. It kick-started a stretch in which Taylor led the Packers in rushing for seven consecutive seasons, including five in a row with 1,000 or more yards.
While Taylor led the league in rushing touchdowns with 15 in 1961, he is best remembered for his performance the following year, which was unquestionably the finest of his career. Taylor was named league MVP in 1962 after rushing for 1,474 yards and 19 touchdowns in a 14-game season. He was also a consensus All-Pro selection that season and voted to the Pro Bowl, an honor he received each year from 1960-64.
Comparisons between Taylor and Jim Brown, star fullback for the Cleveland Browns, were quite popular, and Lombardi offered the following assessment: “Jim Brown will give you that leg and then take it away from you. Jim Taylor will give it to you and then ram it through your chest!”
Taylor still holds the single-season franchise record of 19 rushing touchdowns. His single-season rushing total of 1,474 yards was not eclipsed until running back Ahman Green gained 1,883 in 2003. His career total of 8,207 is second only to Green's 8,322.
Taylor capped his tremendous 1962 season with a historic performance in the title game, which was played in frigid conditions at Yankee Stadium. Temperatures were measured at 13 degrees and winds howled at 40 miles per hour.
Taylor absorbed a physical and verbal beating from the hellacious New York Giants’ defense. A gash on Taylor’s elbow required seven stitches at halftime; a lacerated tongue had him spitting and swallowing blood. There were, according to an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, additional knees to Taylor’s groin from various defenders and trash talk that lasted all four quarters.
Despite his wounds, Taylor paced the offense with 85 yards and the game’s only touchdown. The 16-7 victory was the second of four championships won by the Packers during Taylor’s career: 1961, ‘62, ’65 and ’66.
“You got to enjoy punishment because you are going to deliver so much of it, and you are going to get so much of it,” Taylor said. “ … If you are prepared you don’t really feel the punishment during the game.”
Taylor’s final season with the Packers was 1966, his ninth in the league. He left the franchise with 26 100-yard rushing games and 8,207 rushing yards to his name.
He played one additional season with the New Orleans Saints in 1967 before retiring.
Jim Taylor at a glance
Born: Sept. 20, 1935, in Baton Rouge, La.
School: Louisiana State University, where he was an All-American in 1957. Taylor played two years of college football (1956 and ’57). He rushed for 762 yards and 12 touchdowns in 1957 and finished his career with 1,314 rushing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns. Taylor was drafted by the Packers with the 15th pick in the second round in 1958.
Hall of Fame: Packers Hall of Fame, Class of 1975; Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1976.
Packers playing career: Taylor rushed for 1,000 yards in five consecutive seasons. He led the league with 15 touchdowns in 1961. His best season, 1962, consisted of 1,474 rushing yards, 19 touchdowns and league MVP honors. He won four championships with the Packers: 1961, ‘62, ’65 and ‘66. Taylor finished his Packers career with 26 100-yard games and 8,207 rushing yards. He scored 93 total touchdowns (83 rushing, 10 receiving).
Post playing career: Taylor finished his career by playing one season with the New Orleans Saints in 1967. He rushed for 390 yards and scored two touchdowns. Taylor was known for staying in tremendous shape post-football. He ran marathons well into his 50s and competed in multiple editions of the Superstars competition that pitted some of the world’s best athletes against each other in various sporting events. Taylor also was president of the United States Rugby League, which announced plans for a 12-team league in 1968. He was diagnosed with Hepatitis C in 1989 but the condition eventually went dormant. Taylor resided in his hometown of Baton Rouge.
Quote: “You got to enjoy punishment because you are going to deliver so much of it, and you are going to get so much of it. … If you are prepared you don’t really feel the punishment during the game.” — Jim Taylor