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Running to daylight

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11/09/2009

Vince Lombardi took over the Green Bay Packers coaching reins in 1959 and in just two years he brought the Pack back from the 1-10-1 record they experienced in 1958 to a NFL Western Division title.

Lombardi’s coaching genius was universally acknowledged as a major factor in the amazing resurgence. There also was a long list of stars that all played significant roles in the Packers’ dynasty of the 1960s. Such names as Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Jim Ringo, Forrest Gregg, Willie Davis, and Ray Nitschke helped Green Bay win five league championships and the first two Super Bowls during the decade.

But Jim Taylor, a rock-hard fullback from Louisiana State University, quickly became the Packers’ “bread-and-butter” guy, the man they looked to for two or three yards for the first down or for the sure touchdown at the goal line.

As the Packers dynasty grew, so too did the prowess of Taylor. He was the symbol of power in the awesome Green Bay attack and the epitome of the ideal NFL fullback. He was a throwback to such a runner like the Chicago Bears’ famed Bronko Nagurski. Taylor not only ran with a fierce belligerence, but was adept at catching short swing passes from Starr, and served as a rugged blocker.

Lombardi once summarized his star fullback’s attitude toward the game.

“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.”

Unfortunately for Taylor, he played during an era that included some of the game’s greatest runners. He shared the Packers backfield with a fellow future Hall of Famer Paul Hornung throughout his career. And, Taylor may well have been regarded as the best fullback who ever lived had he not played in the shadow of Cleveland Browns fullback Jim Brown.

Taylor won his only rushing crown in 1962. It marked the lone season in which Jim Brown did not finish first in rushing during his entire Hall of Fame career. Taylor also finished second behind Brown in 1960, 1961, 1963, and 1964.

Despite the fact that Taylor did not receive the All-NFL accolades that a runner of his caliber would have normally earned had it not been for Brown, many NFL opponents of that era often stated that stopping Taylor was a much more dangerous task than tackling Brown.

“Brown is strong,” Hall of Fame linebacker Sam Huff once summarized. “But he doesn’t sting you like Taylor does.”

It is worth noting that Taylor and the Packers did well in the head-to-head battles between Taylor and Brown. The two great fullbacks opposed one another four times in their careers. In the first meeting, a regular season game in 1961, Taylor rushed for 158 yards and scored four touchdowns while the Packers defense held Brown to a mere 72 yards on the ground as Green Bay won, 49-17. Another famous confrontation between the two came in the 1965 NFL title game which marked Brown’s final game of his career. Taylor outrushed his counterpart, 96-50, as the Packers defeated Cleveland 23-12.

Putting all comparisons to Brown aside, Jim Taylor was a dominating and punishing runner and ranks among the game’s all-time best. He played nine seasons with the Packers before spending one final year in 1967 with the expansion club from his home state, the New Orleans Saints. In all, he rushed for 8,597 yards, added 1,756 yards on 225 pass receptions and piled up 10,538 combined net yards.

When he retired he ranked second behind only Brown in all-time rushing yards. He also remained the Packers’ all-time leading ground gainer for more than four decades until supplanted by Ahman Green midway through the 2009 NFL season.

Taylor was elected to five Pro Bowls and named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1960s. And, in January 1976, he appropriately became the first player from the great Packers teams of the 1960s to earn election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

His enshrinement into the Hall of Fame was testament to his accomplishments on the football field. A quiet but impactful player, Taylor became adept at the favorite ploy of the Lombardi era, “running to daylight.” That simply meant that Taylor could quickly adjust when a hole in the defensive line was unavailable on the called play. He’d bounce off and find the next available opening. The “run to daylight” doctrine obviously worked for Taylor. He strung together five straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons from 1960 to 1964.

Taylor’s style was defined by his sheer toughness that often left opposing defenders on the worse end of tackles whenever he carried the football. No season better defined Taylor’s ability than a memorable 1962 campaign marked by the Packers second straight world championship.

He rushed for a career-high 1,474 yards and a then NFL record 19 touchdowns, earned unanimous All-NFL honors, and was named the Associated Press Player of the Year. Not to be outdone by his solid performance that helped Green Bay to a 13-1 regular season record, Taylor left the best for last that year. In the 1962 NFL Championship Game, he pounded the New York Giants on a bitterly cold afternoon. He shook off a gash to his elbow that required seven stitches and a badly cut tongue, both the result of punishing tackles to the cement-like turf that day. He managed to carry the load for Packers by rushing 31 times for 85 yards and scored Green Bay’s only touchdown in the 16-7 victory.

One constant throughout Jim Taylor’s career was that team success mirrored his own individual successes.


Taylor’s road to the NFL


Jim Taylor was born in Baton Rouge, LA on Sept. 20, 1935. He learned his trademarked toughness during his childhood. His father died when Jim was only 10 and he watched his mother work to support his two brothers and him. He helped the family by earning $3 a week off two paper routes.

Taylor lettered four years in basketball at Baton Rouge High School and didn’t play football until his junior season. After playing on defense, he was moved to fullback as a senior and he won all-state honors. Jim had a promising freshman year at LSU before spending one year at Hinds Junior College in Mississippi during his sophomore year. He returned to LSU the following year and led the Southeastern Conference in scoring despite the fact he didn’t play regularly for the Tigers until mid-season. He won All-America honors as a senior after starring at linebacker and as a high-scoring runner. His ability on the collegiate level drew the eye of the Packers who selected him in the second round of the 1958 NFL Draft.

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