As you probably heard, all-time Packer great Jim Taylor died this week at age 83. Taylor was not only an NFL Hall of Famer, a five time Pro Bowler who won four NFL championships and a Super Bowl with Green Bay, he was also the first Packer I ever met.
I grew up in Menasha only a block from the Left Guard Supper Club, co-owned by Packers Fuzzy Thurston and Max McGee. In 1964 The Left Guard hosted what I believe was the first Thousand Yarder’s Club dinner. After dinner they would enshrine every NFL player who had rushed for 1000 yards in one season, A feat far more rare in 14 games seasons then it is today.
While my dad did not have tickets to this dinner, he did have an idea. He guessed that many of the players would be in town the night before and probably dining at the Left Guard. So, we did, too.
Dad was correct. As I sat sipping my Shirley Temple and sorting through the basket of cellophane wrapped crackers and bread sticks on our table, deciding which ones I would sneak into my pocket for later, players began filing in.
I knew they were football players because of their size. Face it, when you’re five years old everybody looks pretty big. But at that age, pro football running backs looked to me like they lived atop a bean stalk and said things like “Fe fi fo fum”.
I asked my dad which one was a Packer. He pointed to a nearby table where Taylor was sitting with some other players. I just sat there and stared. Not only were they all big, some of them were black. That was something else I have never seen growing up in Menasha in the early 60s.
Seeing me gawking at Jim Taylor, my mom fished around in her giant purse and found a little notepad and pencil. With much trepidation and way too much parental encouragement, I walked the 5 or 6 feet to his table which seemed to me to be at least 1000 yards. Hey, who is going to throw me a dinner?
When I got in front of the Packer great, I thrust the paper and pencil in front of him and said…well, nothing. My mind went blank and my mouth became a desert. In hindsight, I was like Ralphie trying to ask Santa for the Red Ryder BB gun in A Christmas Story. I was so afraid to ask him to sign the paper that I almost peed my pants. Thankfully I did not because it would’ve ruined the crackers and bread sticks I had squirreled away in my pockets for later.
Instead, I just stood there, mouth agape, until Jim Taylor, THEE Jim Taylor asked if I wanted an autograph? “Ugh”, I grunted. He apparently took this as a “yes”. He then asked my name, to which I replied with still another “Ugh”. The other players all had a pretty good laugh at that.
Taylor scribbled down his name then passed it around the table. Other NFL Thousand Yarders; Joe Perry, JD Smith, Beattie Feathers, and John Henry Johnson all signed my paper as well.
I didn’t know who any of them were. Hell, I barely knew who Jim Taylor was. At age 5 it was just exciting to meet a Green Bay Packer. And I was lucky enough that it was Jim Taylor; one of the all-time greats! -Rick McNeal-