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George Taliaferro, Pioneer NFL Figure And Former Colt, Dies At 91

Baltimore Colts running back George Taliaferro (20) poses for a photo in 1954. (AP Photo/NFL Photos)

George Taliaferro’s professional football career — which included three Pro Bowl selections as a versatile weapon — was certainly impressive enough.

But his legacy as an African-American pioneer in the National Football League — and in sports and American culture in general — will live on forever.

Taliaferro, the first black player drafted by an NFL club and a talented playmaker who would eventually play two seasons with the Baltimore Colts, has died. He was 91.

A high school phenom in Gary, Ind., Taliaferro took his talents down south to Bloomington, Ind., and Indiana University, where he was a standout running back, quarterback, defensive back and kicker for the Hoosiers.

In 1945, the three-time All-American Taliaferro led Indiana to its first Big Ten championship. But he was just as big of a figure off the field, as he was also well-known for his efforts to desegregate the school’s Bloomington campus.

If that's not enough, Taliaferro missed the 1946 season to serve in the Army.

After his junior season at IU, Taliaferro made history when the Chicago Bears selected the talented athlete in the 13th round of the 1949 NFL Draft, making him the first African-American drafted by an NFL team.

Taliaferro elected to sign with the Los Angeles Dons of the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) out of college, however. He played with the Dons in 1949, officially entered the NFL with the New York Yanks in 1950-51 and played one season with the Dallas Texans in 1952 before playing two seasons in Baltimore. Taliaferro wrapped up his playing career with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1955.

A three-time Pro Bowler, Taliaferro would play 72 games in his seven-year football career. He racked up 498 rushing attempts for 2,266 yards (4.6 yards per carry) with 15 touchdowns, while he also had 95 career receptions for 1,300 yards and another 12 scores.

Taliaferro also completed 92-of-284 career passing attempts for 1,633 yards and 10 touchdowns to 29 interceptions.

His best season with the Colts came in 1953, when he posted career-highs in rushing attempts (102), rushing yards (479) and receiving yards (346). Named to his third consecutive Pro Bowl that season, Taliaferro had two touchdowns each on the ground, through the air and as a passer.

According to IU, “Taliaferro’s story concludes where it began–back in Indiana, where after retiring from football he became a special assistant to then-IU President John Ryan. Charged with implementing affirmative action programs throughout the IU system, Taliaferro worked tirelessly and with great success to open the doors of higher education to minorities.”

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