Not all Bronco's are completely forgotten, but there are times when the younger generation of fans need to remember the greats of the Bronco past. When the Denver Broncos formed in 1960 along with the AFL, they team was filled with no names and castaways. One of those men was a castaway from the Chicago Bears. Lionel Taylor went to the Bears in his rookie season after a stellar career at unknown New Mexico Highlands University. Taylor spent eight games with the Bears, mostly on the bench, logging zero pass catches and was released.
As with most NFL rejects, Lionel Taylor found himself looking for work in the AFL. He walked on to try out for the Denver Broncos and after several one handed grabs in practice he quickly worked himself into the starting line up. Not known for his blazing speed, Taylor may have had the best hands in the entire AFL. He quickly became the Broncos only super star in the early 60's, while statistically dominating the upstart league.
In Taylor's brief career, he set franchise records in receptions and yards that wouldn't be broken until the late 1990's. He also set a league record for most receptions in a six year span of 503 that would not be broken until Sterling Sharp caught 540 passes in his six seasons, the big difference between them is that Sharpe had 14 more games with which to break Lionel Taylor's mark. Taylor was also the first player ever to catch more than 100 passes in a single season.
Lionel Taylor was named to three AFL All-Star selections and was named the Bronco's MVP from 1963-65. He had four seasons with over 1,000 yards receiving, and averaged 84.7 catches from 1960 to 1965 and ended his career as the AFL's all-time leading receiver. I am of the opinion that if Lionel Taylor played for any other professional football team that he would most certainly be in the Hall of Fame today. Taylor was once quoted saying, "If you catch the ball, it only hurts half as much when you get hit." To me, that represents the epitome of what being a receiver is all about. The Hall of Fame is lesser without him and his exclusion is another great travesty the NFL as afflicted upon Broncoland.
Not that being snubbed affected Lionel any, he went on to become an excellent positions coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers during the Steel Curtain days and eventually rose to the level of Offensive Coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams. After a successful career in coaching, Lionel Taylor finally got a crack at a head coaching job in the World League for the London Monarchs in 1996 where he went on to finish his career.
I think that perhaps Taylor's first and last two seasons in the league hurt his HOF stock in the eyes of those who get to vote. There was no other pass catcher in either league that came close to matching Lionel Taylor's consistency from 1960-65. Don't believe me? Compare those stats with the stats of some other Hall of Famers from this era:
The fact that not one of those Hall of Famers listed above ever caught more than 75 passes in a season shows that there is some bias in the selection process. Not only that, but Fred Biletnikoff only surpassed 1000 yards one time in his long career. So if stats have little to do with the selection process, then what about impact on the team? Does it matter that Lionel Taylor was the only offensive weapon on an otherwise awful football team? Does it matter that no player matched Taylor's production over the course of six seasons until the modern era? What does matter to these selection committees? I would sure like to find the answer to these questions and so many more. Lionel Taylor deserves to be in the Hall and no one can convince me otherwise.
My next post will be on a much lesser known Bronco who played just one season for the team, but made a significant impact upon the history of both AFL and NFL leagues.