Jim Taylor, a Hall of Fame running back best remembered for his role on Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers, has died at the age of 83.
Taylor was known as a fierce competitor who would run over, around or through an opponent, and he won a league MVP award and played on the 1966 Packers team that won the first Super Bowl.
Born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1935, Taylor played his college football at LSU. He was a first-team All-American in 1957, and the Packers chose him with the 15th overall pick in the 1958 NFL draft.
At first Taylor was used sparingly in Green Bay, but when Lombradi arrived in 1959 he turned Taylor into a workhorse back, and by 1960 Taylor led the league in rushing attempts. Lombardi was partial to the “Packers sweep,” which he famously diagrammed on a chalkboard describing “a seal here, and a seal here,” with Taylor’s job being to “run this play in the alley.”
Taylor ran in the alley enough that in 1962 he led the NFL in rushing and then led the Packers to a 16-7 win over the Giants in the NFL Championship Game at Yankee Stadium. By 1966 he had become the league’s top rusher (thanks to the retirement of Jim Brown), and in Super Bowl I he scored a touchdown, which he characteristically credited to the offensive line.
“It was just good blocking on a weak-side sweep play,” Taylor said. “It’s a cakewalk when you get the blocking. It was just like we had been doing the last five or six years.”
But if Taylor was happy with his offensive line, he was increasingly unhappy in Green Bay, and after playing on a series of one-year contracts Taylor refused to sign the option deal the Packers were offering him.
“I liked to play the game,” Taylor recalled in a New York Times interview in 1982, “but I also was a man trying to provide a comfortable living and a good future for myself and my family. I remember going to Vince Lombardi when I was at my peak and trying to negotiate for more money. Lombardi was a tough negotiator. And why not? He held all the cards in the deck. I’d say, ‘Well, I was all-pro for these many years, and I think I deserve such and such.’ He’d say, ‘Well, we’re going to pay you this amount, and if you’re not happy, Jim, then go play out your option.’ He knew, of course, that playing out your option and trying to sell your services on the free market in football was just about impossible. The owners banded together and wouldn’t make a bid.”
When the expansion New Orleans Saints began play in his home state, Taylor saw his opportunity, with a new owner of a new team who would want to sign a hometown star. It was almost unheard of for a player in those days to leave one team and sign with another, and the Saints were forced to give the Packers a first-round draft pick as compensation for signing Taylor away. But Taylor got his wish of going home, and he also demonstrated that a player could negotiate just as hard as management did.
Taylor, then, will be remembered both as an all-time great player on the field, and as a player who was smart enough off the field to recognize the value he brought to a team. Taylor was ahead of his time.