(Lionel Taylor photos courtesy of the Denver Broncos)
By Ron Borges
Talk of Fame Network
If you lead professional football in receiving for six straight seasons, would you not be correct in assuming your name would come up at some point in a discussion of your Hall-of-Fame worthiness? Well, tell that to Lionel Taylor.
Who, you ask?
Lionel Taylor may be one of the most remarkable football players in the game’s history. He not only led the American Football League in receptions each of his first six seasons in the league, he did so after beginning his professional career as a LINEBACKER for the Chicago Bears in 1959. What was George Halas thinking? Maybe he needed to have the prescription checked on those glasses he wore at the time?
Taylor had been an all-conference wide receiver at New Mexico Highlands, as well as a basketball and track star, but Papa Bear saw him as a Monster of the Midway. Instead he left for the Denver Broncos a year later and became a monster in the middle of the field.
Taylor signed with the new AFL for the chance to return to his original position and wasted no time proving his mettle. He caught 92 passes for 1,235 yards and 12 touchdowns in 1960, the AFL’s inaugural season; then the next year became the first receiver in pro football history with 100 receptions.
And he did it in only 14 games.
Taylor finished right on that number (100) in 1961 and turned those receptions into 1,176 receiving yards. What was that about linebacker again?
Taylor became a three-time AFL All-Star, as well as a member of the all-time AFL team. By the end of his nine-year, AFL career, Lionel Taylor had amassed four 1,000-yard seasons and averaged a remarkable 84.7 receptions per season in his first six years in Denver — which, at the time, was the highest six-year total in pro football history.
Remember now, all those numbers were posted in 14 games, not today’s 16-game season, and against defenses allowed to mug him from the moment the ball was snapped all the way down the field. To say the 6-2, 215-pound Taylor was remarkable is to define understatement.
Yet Lionel Taylor has never once been considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The argument against him is that he did all these remarkable things in the early days of the AFL, a bomb-throwers league with, some say, questionable defenses. One can debate the truth of that all day long, but the fact is Lionel Taylor was doing what few others were in either league … and he did it on arguably the worst team in the AFL.
In 1965, Taylor had 85 receptions for 1,131 yards, his final great season before age and the wear and tear of being so often the Broncos’ chief target began to break him down. He dropped off to 35 catches for only 448 yards the following year and then finished his career with Houston, retiring when he was 34 after two injury-riddled seasons with the Oilers.
Taylor went on to a long career as a receivers coach, first with Chuck Noll’s Steelers during much of their glory years (1970-76) and later as an offensive coordinator with the Los Angeles Rams, head coach at Texas Southern and passing game coordinator with the Cleveland Browns.
In 1995, Taylor came out of retirement to serve first as offensive coordinator and, later, head coach of the London Monarchs in NFL Europe, finishing his career in 1998.
One can debate the early days of the AFL all you want but those records are in the NFL record books, and Lionel Taylor’s numbers not only have stood the test of time (he’s still third all-time in receptions and receiving yardage with the Broncos) they make a strong case for his inclusion in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. To say otherwise is like calling him a linebacker.