Former LSU All-American Jimmy Taylor, the first of Vince Lombardi’s fabled Green Bay Packers to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, died Saturday morning.
Taylor, who turned 83 years old on Sept. 20, was born in Baton Rouge and attended Baton Rouge High. He played junior-college ball for two seasons before starring for his hometown team in 1956 and ’57.
A hard-running fullback, Taylor was a first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection and All-America pick in 1957 for legendary LSU coach Paul Dietzel.
Taylor was LSU's sixth All-American in football, earning that distinction from the Football Writers Association of America even though the Tigers won just five games in his senior season.
But Taylor led the nation in scoring that year with 86 points and topped the SEC in rushing with 762 yards.
Taylor shared the backfield in 1957 with a sophomore named Billy Cannon, who died in May at the age of 80.
It was an interesting pairing, to say the least, as Cannon was an Istrouma High School grad and Taylor went to rival Baton Rouge High.
Still, they arguably were the greatest tandem to ever line up together in the LSU backfield. Cannon, who possessed size and sprinter's speed, was the lightning part of the backfield; the ruggedly built Taylor was the thunder.
Like Cannon, Taylor is a member of the LSU Athletic Hall of Fame and the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
"Jimmy represented everything great about LSU, college football, pro football and being a great human being," LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva said Saturday. "He was a great human being.
"We're going to miss him terribly. He was so passionate about LSU ... he was always around. We're going to miss him terribly. He was a great man."
After completing his eligibility with the Tigers, Taylor was named MVP of the 1958 Senior Bowl, which helped launch his stellar 10-year NFL career.
He played nine seasons with the Packers, who chose him in the second round (15th overall) of the 1958 draft, and finished his career with the New Orleans Saints in their inaugural season of 1967.
"We extend our deepest sympathies to Helen Taylor and all of the family and friends of Jim Taylor," the Saints said in a statement. "Jim played an important role as a member of our franchise's inaugural 1967 team and was rightfully beloved by generations of Saints fans and our entire organization.
"We will always be grateful for his many contributions to our team and community."
Upon his retirement after one season with the Saints, Taylor was NFL’s No. 2 all-time rusher with 8,597 yards. He had 83 rushing touchdowns and 225 receptions for 1,756 yards and 10 more touchdowns.
A five-time Pro Bowl pick, he finished with 10,353 total yards from scrimmage and 93 TDs in just 132 career games. He played on four of Lombardi's five NFL championship teams with the Packers.
He led the Packers in rushing for seven consecutive seasons from 1960-66 even though he shared the ball-carrying duties with former Heisman Trophy winner Paul Hornung.
Among his many honors, Taylor also had the distinction of playing in the first Super Bowl, which the Packers won over the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10.
Taylor was Green Bay's leading rusher that day with 56 yards on 17 carries. His 14-yard TD in the second quarter snapped a 7-7 tie, catapulting the Packers to a blowout victory.
Taylor was a first-team All-Pro in 1962, when he led the NFL with 1,474 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns in just 14 games. That monster season came after he piled up 1,307 yards and 15 scores in his fourth NFL season in 1961.
LSU has two other former players, both now deceased, enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Running back Steve Van Buren was inducted in 1965 and quarterback Y.A. Tittle went in in 1971. Taylor joined them in the Canton, Ohio, hall in 1976.
“Jim Taylor lived life the same way he played football — with passion, determination and love for all he did," Pro Football Hall of Fame president and CEO David Baker said in a statement. "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. The Pro Football Hall of Fame will keep Jim’s legacy alive so generations of fans will remember: His rugged running style, ability to block, and leadership in Coach Vince Lombardi’s ‘run to daylight’ philosophy that made him the first from the Lombardi-era Packers to earn a place in Canton."
Baker said Taylor’s accomplishments on the field and in his life "represent values like commitment, teamwork, sacrifice, and passion that serve as inspiration to us all.”
Green Bay stormed through the NFL during Taylor’s heyday, winning four championships — including the first Super Bowl.
With a no-neck, granite-like upper torso and legs with the resiliency of concrete, the 5-foot-11, 212-pounder was the ideal battering ram.
He became the first back to run for 1,000-plus yards for five straight seasons, this in the era of 12- and 14-game schedules.
When he became a free agent after the 1966 season, Saints owner John Mecom badly wanted him and thought of it as a natural choice, a Louisiana boy coming home.
Coach Tom Fears had different thoughts and didn’t want him, especially at the cost of getting a free agent in those days — a No. 1 draft choice at a time when Fears was trying to build a viable team.
Mecom, of course, got his wish, expecting the All-Pro back to give the fledgling club some credibility, which seemed to be working when Taylor and quarterback Gary Cuozzo graced the cover of Sports Illustrated’s preseason cover with the headline “The Saints Go Marching In.’’
The 3-11 Saints didn’t do much marching.
On a team that didn’t surround him with much help, Taylor was basically a sitting duck in the backfield, gaining just 390 yards rushing on 130 carries.
Before the next season, Fears, in essence, forced Taylor’s retirement.
Before a 1968 preseason game in Shreveport, during pregame warmups, Fears told Taylor he was demoting him to special teams. Taylor walked off the field, and out of football.
But his odyssey to the Hall of Fame surprised few who saw him develop into a dependable and productive ball carrier who rarely fumbled.
"I have never seen another football player with such balance," Lombardi once said of Taylor. "Jimmy Taylor does not have exceptional speed, but he has great quickness.
"He exulted in contact and would go out of his way to run over defensive backs.’’
Advocate sportswriter Sheldon Mickles contributed to this report.
THE JIMMY TAYLOR FILE
• Born Sept. 20, 1935, in Baton Rouge
• Attended Baton Rouge High School
• Lettered at LSU, 1956-57
• First-team All-American, first-team All-SEC, 1957
• Led SEC in scoring (59 points) in 1956
• Drafted by the Green Bay Packers in second round in 1958
• Played for Green Bay 1958-66; New Orleans Saints 1967
• Had 1,941 carries for 8,597 yards and 83 TDs in NFL career
• 1962 NFL MVP, leading the league with 1,474 yards, 19 TDs rushing
• Scored the first rushing touchdown in Super Bowl history (Super Bowl I vs. Kansas City, 1967)
• Inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame, 1975
• Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, 1976