The cover story of Life magazine, published 52 years ago Sunday, was entitled “Uncontrolled violence of the pros.” On the cover was a picture of the Green Bay Packers' Jimmy Taylor getting wrapped up by Cleveland Browns linebacker Vince Costello, their uniforms thick with mud.
In the photo, Taylor is spun around with his back to the line of scrimmage — but you can tell he is still churning, fighting for every inch of turf he could manage.
Taylor embodied football the way we remember it: A tough game played by tough men. They came no tougher than Taylor, the Baton Rouge native and LSU great who died Satuday at 83.
“That son-of-a-gun is the toughest son-of-a-gun in the league,” Packers backfield mate Paul Hornung once said. “I’ve seen him run over guys 30 or 40 pounds bigger than him like that.”
Virtually everything in Taylor’s life came to him the hard way. His father died when he was 10. His mother, a seamstress, worked in a Baton Rouge laundry to raise Jimmy and his older and younger brothers.
Taylor helped the family by working his way through Baton Rouge High School delivering the Morning Advocate on his bicycle at 4 a.m. on not one route, but two.
He enrolled at LSU in 1954 and was a star on the freshman team when freshmen were ineligible to play varsity football. But Taylor ran into academic trouble and found himself in the office of LSU President Troy Middleton.
According to Peter Finney's book, "The Fighting Tigers," Middleton asked Taylor: "Jimmy, if you were sitting in my chair, what would you do?”
“I’d throw me out of school,” Taylor replied.
Taylor spent a year at Hinds (Mississippi) Community College near Jackson before returning to letter at LSU in 1956-57, sharing the backfield with Billy Cannon in ’57.
Although Cannon went on to win the 1958 national title and the 1959 Heisman Trophy, in ’57, Taylor was the star. He led the nation in scoring and the Southeastern Conference in rushing before being drafted in the second round by the Packers.
Taylor and his hard-nosed style made him a favorite of hard-to-please coach Vince Lombardi. Taylor led the Packers in rushing seven times as a fullback — an unbelievable stat today — and played on four of Lombardi’s five NFL championship teams.
Taylor won the first Super Bowl with the Packers and held the franchise’s rushing record for 43 years. When the Pro Football Hall of Fame started inducting players from those great Packers teams of the ’60s, Taylor was in 1976 the first to be enshrined.
"What you respected him for was his devotion and his commitment to the team," Green Bay quarterback Bart Starr said.
Taylor, who finished his NFL career in 1967 with the New Orleans Saints in their inaugural season, retained that bite-through-nails persona into his 80s, never losing the barrel-chested, square-jawed, chiseled-out-of-stone physical presence.
He would, you sometimes thought, go on forever.
Unfortunately, none of us do. But I’d like to think he’s somewhere with Lombardi, the old coach clasping him on the shoulder and saying: “Jimmy, I’m proud of you.”
The same goes for all of Baton Rouge and Louisiana, Jimmy. You were one of the greats, and you made us proud.