In between the start of rookie training camp and the arrival of the veterans during the team's inaugural summer of 1967, the New Orleans Saints attempted to make a big splash in free agency, signing future Hall of Fame fullback Jim Taylor on July 6.
Make the jump for more on what led up to this signing, and how it worked out for the Saints.
Taylor, who grew up in Baton Rouge and was an All-American at LSU, had won a Super Bowl, three NFL championships, and a rushing title during a stellar nine-year career with the Green Bay Packers that included five Pro Bowl berths and five straight 1,000-yard seasons (1960-64).
Even though his yards per carry had dropped off considerably in 1965 and 1966, the hope was that he still had something left in the tank and that his skilled veteran presence would help the team, while his local ties would further energize the fanbase. He only played one forgettable season for the Saints (3 yards per carry and two TDs on 130 carries), and then retired the following year, after being relegated to special teams in the 1968 preseason. Check out Keith Yowell's 2010 article for more depth.
In The Saga of the Saints, Wayne Mack wrote that the team (or at least owner John Mecom) had its' eye on Taylor for quite a while, in an instance that highlighted the troubles of an ownership/management crossover between Mecom, Personnel Director Vic Schwenk, and Head Coach Tom Fears, a systemic problem that would go on to plague the team for many years...
Additional issues commanded the time of the Mecom-Schwenk-Fears triumvirate. The owner made it clear that he badly wanted fullback Jimmy Taylor and halfback Paul Hornung. Both could be available...at a price. Taylor, who felt unhappy, underpaid, and unappreciated with the Green Bay Packers, had played out his option and would become a free agent on May 1, 1967...Mecom, much like a kid pressing his nose against the window at the toy store, wanted Taylor for his very own. And Mecom claimed later that both Senator Russell Long and Governor John McKeithen pushed hard for the Saints to acquire Taylor.
Here's more from Mack on the runup to May 1...
Mecom did tell reporters in February, however, "Jimmy Taylor will be here...and soon." Apparently the excited owner had forgotten Schwenk's admonition about signing "option" players. The coach did not want Taylor, although Mecom said later it was Fears' decision. As negotiations dragged on, Fears suggested that a possible loss of a No. 1 draft choice (conditions of the NFL's fledgling free agency system then) was too much to pay for the nine-year veteran and added that "maybe it would be better if he played out his career in Green Bay." Taylor said that he'd like to play out his career in Louisiana. The average salary in the NFL in 1967 was $15,000 and the minimum was $12,000. Fears was making $35,000. Taylor was demanding $100,000 a year for a four-year guaranteed contract. The Atlanta Falcons turned him down.
...and then it came:
May 1 arrived, and Jimmy Taylor became a free agent with strings attached to Lombardi, and held by (then commish Pete) Rozelle. Trying to keep Taylor without giving up too much, Lombardi offered him a two-year contract at $65,000 per year. Mecom, eager to challenge the old, established system, as well as show up the great Lombardi, continued his public demonstrations to bring Taylor "home." To Taylor, "home" was where the money was. Who could blame the star? For nine years he had been the battering ram for the famous Green Bay Sweep, and at the age of 31, he wanted to get paid by somebody - anybody - for all those bruising years and all those championships.
So, after all the posturing, Mecom finally got what he wanted on July 6, and as you read above, it didn't really work out all that well (just as many other front office moves by the early Saints).
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In the spirit of Lagniappe, I now bring you an eBay link to some Jim Taylor/Saints memorabilia. This lot includes an autographed program from the final Saints game of 1967 against the Washington Redskins (which would turn out to be Taylor's final game in the NFL), a "Property of New Orleans Saints" t-shirt, game-used chin strap, and actual tickets from the event. The Saints won this game, 30-14, ending the 3-11 season on a high note. It looks like you can buy it outright for $700, or make them an offer!
You can read more about Jim Taylor's NFL career with the Packers in The Fire Within.
In The Fire Within, Taylor recounts many adventures with his Packers cronies, including Bart Starr and Paul Hornung. Taylor's Packers teammates all remember him as an extremely kind and generous man, blessed with unequaled skill yet untouched by ego. But they also remember him as the fiercest competitor around, a man who thrived on contact and aggression the moment he stepped on the field.
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Those of you who may recall this time of the Saints or Jim Taylor's LSU career, please share your thoughts and memories with us. And can you imagine what it would have been like on July 6, if CSC had been around? Either of the weekday Daves (Cariello or Satch) would have thrown up a quick post when it happened, and then just think of what the comment thread would have looked like...