On a cool, foggy day in 1953, George Taliaferro stepped out of the mist and into historical past for the Baltimore Colts. When the group broke the huddle on the outset of a house sport towards the Los Angeles Rams, Taliaferro bent below heart, changing into the primary Black beginning quarterback in trendy NFL historical past.
Seventy years later, professional soccer is wealthy in African American quarterbacks. This season, a document 14 of the 32 groups started the yr with a Black participant calling alerts. But earlier than standouts just like the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson, the Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and the Philadelphia Eagles’ Jalen Hurt, there was Taliaferro. A fierce competitor, he performed each offense and protection, and his look at quarterback on that grey Nov. 22 gave hope — and credence — to these of his race who would observe.
Long a stellar operating again, Taliaferro was a three-time All-American at Indiana University and, in 1949, the primary Black participant to be drafted by an NFL group, by the Chicago Bears. He signed as a substitute with the rival All-America Football Conference. When that league failed, at yr’s finish, Taliaferro joined the NFL’s New York Yankees, who grew to become the Dallas Texans, who grew to become the Colts in 1953.
Arriving in Baltimore as one among two African Americans on the group, Taliaferro was no stranger to native followers. In an earlier incarnation, the Colts had competed within the AAFC, the place they gained notoriety because the league’s solely all-white group. Meanwhile, the rival Los Angeles Dons boasted Taliaferro, who, in two victories that season over Baltimore, ran for 2 touchdowns and, from his tailback place, handed for 2 extra.
By 1953, with the Colts, he was in his prime. Fans rallied behind the George-of-all-trades who led the fledgling NFL group that yr in mixed dashing, receiving, punt-return and kick-return yards (1,187). Taliaferro additionally punted and performed cornerback, serving to to meld an itinerant franchise that had moved to its third metropolis in 4 years.
His greatest sport got here in a 27-17 October win over Washington, whose proprietor, George Preston Marshall, was an overt racist. Spurred by a pregame slur by Marshall — ”All [N-word] must be made to push wheelbarrows, and that’s all” — Taliaferro scored two touchdowns, on a 16-yard run and a 37-yard go reception. Afterward, he hurried throughout the sector to ask Marshall whether or not he had “pushed the wheelbarrow fast enough.”
(Taliaferro had lengthy fought for social justice. While attending Indiana, unwilling to take a seat upstairs within the city’s segregated theater, he took a screwdriver, eliminated the “COLORED” signal from the balcony entrance and took a seat down under.)
In mid-November, Colts proprietor Carroll Rosenbloom met with the media and, regardless of the group’s dismal document (3-9 at yr’s finish), pledged an NFL championship at some point for town. One man’s play had raised the proprietor’s hopes.
“I’m a cynic,” Rosenbloom stated, “but the sight of Taliaferro taking a pass … in the fading minutes of a losing ballgame, cutting down the sidelines and then running over two [opponents] when, and get this, he could have stepped out of bounds and saved himself from a possible injury, converted me.”
Four days later, with the Colts’ common quarterbacks sidelined with accidents, Taliaferro made his historic debut at Memorial Stadium. On a discipline drenched in fog, he accomplished six of 21 passes for 53 yards and rushed for 136 yards, together with each a 50-yard scramble and a 43-yard landing. Before a jubilant crowd of 27,268, The Sun reported, Taliaferro “swept around end, waved good-bye with his hip … and went over for the score.”
Though closely favored, the Rams trailed 13-7 after three quarters earlier than rallying for a 21-13 victory. The following week, towards visiting San Francisco, Taliaferro began once more at quarterback and, regardless of two badly bruised and bandaged fingers on his throwing hand, handed for 2 touchdowns in a 38-21 loss to the 49ers. In a 3rd straight begin, he damage a knee early on and left the sport. At yr’s finish, he was named to the Pro Bowl for a 3rd time. But offseason knee surgical procedure slowed him in 1954, and he retired from soccer.
Off the sector, Taliaferro made a distinction. He mentored at-risk youths in a Baltimore rec program and helped rehabilitate inmates on the Maryland Penitentiary. He earned a grasp’s diploma in social work and labored on the Martin Marietta Corp., coaching Black residents for jobs in enterprise.
In 1970, he was named dean of scholars at then-Morgan State College. Two years later, upon his return to Indiana University as assistant to the president, Taliaferro acquired reward from Dr. King V. Cheek, president of Morgan State.
“It has been his keen insight and understanding of youth that has kept our campus relatively free of disturbances in a troubled era,” Cheek stated.
In 1981, Taliaferro earned a spot within the College Football Hall of Fame. He died in 2018 at age 91.