Jim Taylor, the ferocious Hall of Fame fullback who embodied the Green Bay Packers' unstoppable ground game during the Vince Lombardi era and helped the team win four NFL titles and the first Super Bowl, died Saturday. He was 83.
He died unexpectedly at a hospital in his hometown of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the team said.
Taylor played on the great Packer teams and was the league's MVP in 1962. He scored the first rushing touchdown in Super Bowl history.
"He was a gritty, classic player on the Lombardi teams and a key figure of those great championship runs," Packers President Mark Murphy said of the player who left his mark on "multiple generations of Packers fans."
Taylor was voted into the Hall in 1976. David Baker, president of the Hall, lauded Taylor for not only personifying Lombardi's "run to daylight" philosophy but for living his life as he played game, with "passion, determination and love for all he did."
Taylor spent 10 seasons in the NFL after being drafted in the second round out of LSU in 1958. He joined a backfield that featured Paul Hornung and began to thrive when Lombardi took over in 1959.
Lombardi devised the Packers' "Sweep," which featured pulling guards Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston clearing the path for Taylor or Hornung running around the end. The 6-foot, 216-pound Taylor best fulfilled the play's punishing effectiveness, a workhorse always charging forward, dragging would-be tacklers along.
"He taught me lots of character, and virtues, and principles," Taylor said of Lombardi, with whom he occasionally feuded, in a 2001 interview with the Pro Football Hall of Fame. "He established a caliber of football that he felt like would be championship."
In 1960, Taylor ran for 1,101 yards, topping Tony Canadeo's franchise mark of 1,052 yards in 1949. It was just the beginning. He ran for five straight 1,000-yard seasons from 1960-64 and led the Packers seven consecutive times in rushing.
In 1961, Taylor ran for 1,307 yards and scored an NFL-best 15 touchdowns as the Packers rolled to a 37-0 victory over the Giants in Green Bay for Lombardi's first title.
The next year would be Taylor's finest. He ran for 1,474 yards and 19 TDs in 14 games, and scored the only touchdown in the Packers' 16-7 victory over the New York Giants for the second of his four titles.
Taylor said that season, when Green Bay finished 13-1 in the regular season, stood out for him.
"Being voted the MVP of the league in 1962 is something that I look back and cherish," Taylor said. "I felt like I accomplished and achieved my goal."
The 1962 title game pitted the Packers and the Giants, this time in New York, and was played in 40 mph winds and 13-degree temperatures at Yankee Stadium.
Taylor was at his toughest, picking up 85 yards on 31 carries against the vaunted Giants defense featuring linebacker Sam Huff. Taylor sustained a gash to his elbow that required seven stitches at halftime, and he cut his tongue during the game.
"If Taylor went up to get a program, Huff was supposed to hit him. Wherever Taylor went, Huff went with him," Kramer told the Associated Press in 2008. "I remember sitting next to Jimmy on the way home and he had his topcoat on. He never took it off. He had it over his shoulder and the guy was shivering almost all the way home. He just got the hell beat out of him that day."
That game was one of several that helped launch pro football into the television era, and Taylor's contributions to the Packers endured.
Taylor, also a member of the 1965 title team, finished his Packers career after the 1966 season as the franchise's all-time leading rusher and held single-season marks for yards and TDs. He also scored the Super Bowl's first rushing touchdown when the Packers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10 in the inaugural championship game between the NFL and AFL.
But his yardage tailed off sharply in 1966 and he was openly resentful of the high salaries paid to newcomers Donny Anderson and Jim Grabowski. Taylor played his final season with the expansion New Orleans Saints.
His 1,474-yard mark from 1962 stood for 41 years until Ahman Green broke it in 2003. Green went on to break the franchise's all-time rushing mark in 2009.
In college, Taylor stayed home to attend LSU, where he lettered in the 1956 and 1957 seasons. He was a first-team All-American during his second season, when he also became teammates with Jimmy Cannon, who died last May. Taylor led Southeastern Conference in scoring with 59 points in 1956.
"With the ball under his arm, Jimmy Taylor is the finest player I have ever seen," then-LSU coach Paul Dietzel said.
Taylor retired to Baton Rouge and remained close to the LSU football program. He was inducted in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 1974.
He was a familiar presence at LSU football and basketball games. Athletic director Joe Alleva called Taylor the "ultimate LSU guy" who "bled purple and gold as well as Green Bay green and gold."
Taylor was often compared to his contemporary, Cleveland's Jim Brown, but Lombardi had different views on two of the most punishing running backs in the league at the time.
"Jim Brown will give you that leg (to tackle) and then take it away from you," Lombardi said. "Jim Taylor will give it to you and then ram it through your chest."