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 Saturday at age 83, the Packers said.
A native of Baton Rouge, La., 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.
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’s single-season franchise record of 19 touchdowns stood until 1975 when John Brockington scored 20. His single-season rushing total of 1,474 yards was not eclipsed until running back Ahman Green gained 1,883 in 2003.
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.