Charley Taylor, Running Back Turned Hall of Fame Receiver, Dies at 80

Charley Taylor, the Hall of Fame receiver who after 13 seasons playing for Washington retired with the most catches in pro football history, died on Saturday at an assisted living facility in Virginia. He was 80.

The Washington Commanders announced the death in a statement but did not specify the cause.

Taylor was an All-American running back from Arizona State when he was drafted in 1964 by the Redskins, as the Washington football team was then called. He was fast but undisciplined, regularly outrunning his own linemen in the backfield; nonetheless, he was named Rookie of the Year.

Taylor had 53 receptions that year, then a record for a running back. In 1966, Otto Graham, who took over as Washington’s coach at a time when the team was a perennial loser, converted Taylor into a full-time receiver, hoping to make his power and dexterity factors in the open field.

Taylor making a catch during the 1973 Super Bowl. Washington lost to the undefeated Miami Dolphins, 14-7. Credit…Focus on Sport via Getty Images

Taylor, who as a teenager had dreamed of emulating the powerhouse running back Jim Brown, initially resisted the change in his game this required. But then he discovered that starting with the ball beyond the line of scrimmage suited his ability to juke and shift gears. After evading or overpowering cornerbacks, Taylor often ran for long gains after a catch.

Reviewing his career when he retired in 1978, The Washington Post called Taylor “the man who had given more headaches to cornerbacks than any pass catcher to play the game.”

During Taylor’s first season as a receiver, he led the league in receptions with 72 and served as the primary option of the future Hall of Fame quarterback Sonny Jurgensen, who led the league in passing yards with 3,209. Over 10 years as teammates, the two became one of the premier offensive duos in N.F.L. history.

Taylor helped propel Washington to consistent winning records in the early and mid-1970s, but the team never managed to win a title. In the 1972 playoffs, Washington dismantled the reigning champion Dallas Cowboys in the N.F.C. championship game, 26-3, with Taylor recording two touchdown receptions, including one for 45 yards. In the Super Bowl, however, Washington lost to the undefeated Miami Dolphins.

Taylor held the career record for receptions until Charlie Joiner of the San Diego Chargers surpassed him in 1984, the year Taylor was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Taylor remains Washington’s career leader in touchdown receptions, with 79, and he is tied for the franchise’s single-season record for touchdown receptions, with 12. He made the Pro Bowl eight times and was on the Hall of Fame’s All-1960s team.

Charles Robert Taylor was born on Sept. 28, 1941, in Grand Prairie, Texas. He was raised there by his mother, Myrtle, a chef, butcher and restaurant owner, and his stepfather, James Stevenson, who built airplane parts.

Charley was a star athlete at his segregated high school, but he struggled to find a college where he could play football — collegiate teams in Texas were still segregated — and he considered entering the military. Instead, his football career was launched when a man who owned a local grocery store and had attended Arizona State arranged a meeting between Charley and the school’s football coach, Frank Kush.

When Taylor entered the N.F.L., there were no Black quarterbacks or coaches. After retiring, he set his ambitions on making history by becoming the first Black head coach or general manager. He spent 16 years working with the Redskins as a scout and coach, but he never ascended beyond an assistant position.

Taylor is survived by his wife, Patricia (Grant) Taylor; their three children, Elizabeth, Erica and Charles Jr.; and several grandchildren.

Taylor did not celebrate touchdowns with a conventional spike. He held his arms aloft, football in hand, while looking pridefully around the field.

“It was sort of a gesture said, ‘I’ve done all I can do with the ball,’” Taylor explained in an interview with NFL Films. “It was my way of saying, ‘I rest my case.’”

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