September 20 is a day for players with attitude; it’s the birthday of Hall of Fame fullback Jim Taylor and battling guard T.J. Lang. Taylor was the biggest offensive star on Lombardi’s Packers and always a driven and fiery player. Drafted out of LSU in the second round of the 1958 draft, he joined the Packers that year along with Ray Nitschke, Jerry Kramer and Dan Currie in perhaps the team’s best ever draft haul. Taylor did not see much action as a rookie until the last two games when he ran for 236 yards against the 49ers and Rams. He won the starting fullback job under Lombardi in 1959, but missed three games after being burned by scalding grease in a home accident. By 1960, Taylor was fully ensconced as the top fullback in the Western Conference and ran for more than 1,000 yards each of the next five years, finishing second to Jim Brown four times. His best year was 1962 when he gained 1,474 yards and scored 114 points to lead the league in both categories, while setting a league record with 19 rushing touchdowns.
Taylor had firm ideas on how to play the game, “Football is a contact sport. You’ve got to make them respect you. You’ve got to punish tacklers. You’ve got to deal out more misery than the tacklers deal out to you.” On another occasion, he described his running style, “I don’t always run at them. Sometimes I sort of veer off. I like to sting ‘em a little.” He was small for a fullback at 6’ and 215 pounds, but he was the epitome of a power runner. Very muscular from his dedicated weight training, he ran hard and had pretty good speed. He liked to lower his shoulders and swing his forearms and elbows to crash through defenders and was a fine blocker with a nasty attitude.
Lombardi commented in 1962, “Taylor may not be as big as some fullbacks, but he has balance and determination. He is hard to knock off his feet, and he fights for every yard.” Vince expanded on Taylor’s gridiron savviness, “He hits the right hole at the right time, He follows the right blocker, and he doesn’t blow assignments. Don’t ever get the idea it’s all legs and power. Sure, Jim blasts past linebackers and crashes through defensive backs, but he’d never get those opportunities if he wasn’t moving in the right direction and using his blockers the way he should.”
After contracting hepatitis and turning 30 in 1965, Taylor’s rushing average dropped to a paltry 3.5 yards-per-carry, but he still managed to have a superior 1965 championship game against the Browns and score a touchdown on a sweep in the very first Super Bowl a year later. That would be his final Packers’ touchdown, as he played out his option and signed with the expansion Saints as a free agent in 1967 and played one last very diminished season.
The feisty Lang was drafted out of Eastern Michigan as a tackle by the Packers in the fourth round of the 2009 draft and has proved to be a very nice complement to the more celebrated and accomplished Josh Sitton on the other side. For five years, the two gave the team its best set of guards since the Rivera-Wahle team ten years before.
Lang has played all five positions along the offensive line and has started at every slot except center. He has great size and power and is a brawler at 6’4” 305 pounds. Teammate Howard Green once said in admiration of him, “When T.J. comes off the ball he can deliver a blow to you.” Although Lang spent his first two seasons partying too hard off the field to reach his potential, he began to mature in 2011, the year he took over for departed free agent Daryn Colledge at left guard. In the stretch from 2011-15, he has missed just two starts as part of one of the top guard tandems in the league. Like the pair of Gale Gillingham and Bill Lueck forty years before, Lang and Sitton swapped sides in 2013 with T.J. moving to the right side. Both guards proved their toughness in 2014 by playing all season with injuries. Lang played through a left ankle sprain that year, and had previously won the team’s Ed Block Courage Award in 2011.
(adapted from Green Bay Gold)
Custom cards in Topps styles from 1960, 1964, 1965 (altered) and 1966.