A Hall of Fame Comparison – LIONEL TAYLOR

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There is a feeling among AFL fans that the American Football League players are consistently overlooked for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  In truth there are many players, the bulk of whose careers were spent in the AFL, that deserve serious consideration, if not outright induction.  In an effort to spark some discussion regarding their hall of fame worthiness, I will occasionally compare AFL players to their NFL (and Hall of Fame) counterparts. The short biographies on the NFL players have been taken directly from the Pro Football Hall of Fame website.

Today’s comparison is between Lionel Taylor of the Denver Broncos/Houston Oilers and two HoF receivers, Raymond Berry and Bob Hayes.

autographed 1964 topps lionel taylor

#064 – Lionel Taylor

Lionel Thomas Taylor – Drafted in 1959 by Chicago Bears, spent rookie season as a linebacker in the NFL…Went to the Broncos in 1960, and caught 92 passes for 1,235 yards and 12 touchdowns…Led AFL in receptions in four-of-eight seasons…Retired after nine seasons with 567 receptions for 7,195 yards and 45 touchdowns…Four-time AFL All-Star, three-time Broncos MVP, twice All-AFL…First professional receiver to log more than 100 receptions in a season (1961)… AFL All-Time Second Team member

Raymond Emmett Berry Formed exceptional pass-catch team with Johnny Unitas. . .Caught then-record 631 passes for 9,275 yards, 68 touchdowns. . .All-NFL in 1958, 1959, 1960. . .Elected to six Pro Bowl games. . .Set NFL title game mark with 12 catches for 178 yards in 1958 overtime game. . .Colts’ 20th-round future choice in 1954 .

Robert Lee “Bob” Hayes – Selected as a future pick by Cowboys, seventh round, 1964 NFL Draft. . .Also drafted as future choice by Denver (AFL). . .Won a pair of gold medals in the 1964 Olympic Games earning him the title “World’s Fastest Human”. . .Four times was named first- or second-team All-NFL. . .Three times led the Cowboys in receptions. . . Career stats include 7,414 receiving yards and 71 TDs.

I believe that Lionel Taylor’s hall of fame chances are lowered by two issues, neither of which we his fault.  First of all, he played in the early days of the AFL, and HoF voters seem to discount accomplishments during these seasons based on a belief that AFL defenses were inferior competition.  Secondly, he played on Broncos teams that consistently found themselves near the bottom of the league standings.  For many years Taylor was the Broncos go-to man, and he performed admirably, despite having to catch balls from a quarterback carousel.  He has nearly 200 more career receptions than Hayes, though he played two fewer seasons.  Imagine Taylor over 13 seasons with Unitas as his quarterback, and whose numbers would be better, his or Raymond Berry’s?  Thoughts?

Todd Tobias (781 Posts)

Todd Tobias's interest in the American Football League began in 1998, when he wrote my master's thesis about Sid Gillman. He created this site to educate and entertain football fans with the stories of the American Football League, 1960-1969. You can follow Todd and get more AFL history on Twitter @TalesfromtheAFL.

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8 Responses to A Hall of Fame Comparison – LIONEL TAYLOR

  1. Howard says:

    It shows how good Taylor must have been, performing so well on a bad team with bad quarterbacks. If Tarkenton, or Unitas were throwing to him, he would have been inducted 25 years ago.

  2. Kevin Carroll says:

    Some critics overlook Taylor because he didn’t have blazing speed. The fact that he didn’t is an even greater tribute to his pass-catching skills. Being the first pro receiver to catch 100 passes in a season is a legitimate claim to the HOF in itself. He didn’t join the Broncos until their third game in 1960, yet still caught 92 passes in twelve games. With only four days of practice with the team, he caught 11 passes in his first game against the Titans. It’s a crime that he’s not in the HOF.

  3. Tremendous bias against early AFL’ers if not against all AFL’ers. Why Johnny Robinson and Jerry Mays aren’t in is a travesty. When it comes to this comparison here, Raymond Berry’s career was elevated by the 2 championships the Baltimore Colts won in 1958 & 1959. Playing with Unitas gave him such a high profile. No question Lionel Taylor would have equaled or even surpassed those totals had he played with Unitas. No question he was a greater receiver than Bob Hayes… he was a great deep threat where Taylor was a more complete receiver. The stats bore that out with 200 more catches. Lionel Taylor SHOULD be in the Hall Of Fame. Keep educating the masses… a new set of writers, even us blog writers can start the word. Good stuff…

    • Tom says:

      Frank Tripucka and company averaged 35-40 passes per game, some years over 550 passes, or 100 to 150 passes per season more than Johnny U and the Colts. It makes sense comparing HOF players who are in with those that are not, Bob Hayes left out of Canton was not in Canton’s best interest, as Hayes was an American hero duing the Cold Waron the worlds biggest stage beating the Russians in the Olympics and other USSR vs USA track events and reigned supreme. The Worlds Fastest Man. If nothing else Taylor and Hennigan’s jaw dropping numbers brought attention the the AFL those two sparked interest and captured fans. Whether Lionel or Charlie would have put up such numbers in the NFL is subject of debate, what’s not debatable is as a result, Canton makes them wait.

    • Howard says:

      Raymond Berry as detailed recently in a book about the 1958 Colts, can be considered the first “modern” ballplayer. He did not have an off season job like most players had during the 1950’s.
      He studied film extensively, and he kept detailed notebooks on all of the corner backs in the NFL. His pregame preparation was far more extensive than his contemporaries.
      I did not watch Lionel Taylor in the early AFL days. I would have enjoyed watching him as he seemed to be quite outstanding.

  4. Mark Speck says:

    Someday the people at the HOF might realize that it’s the PRO FOOTBALL Hall of Fame and not the NFL Hall of Fame. Taylor belongs, as do so many others!! Keep carrying the torch Todd!!

  5. al avallone says:

    I saw Lionel play and always felt he was deserving of HOF honors. He was an exceptional player and was a coach after retirement.May be his teams were not the best. He was a star of that team. Any one catching 100 passes in 1961 is a rare feat in itself.Keep up the good work Todd and expose this to all to see.

  6. Matt Haddad says:

    Lionel Taylor, Otis Taylor, and Charlie Hennigan should all be in The Hall of Fame. (So should Cookie Gilchrist, but of course we’re talking about wide receivers here.) I think a modern day couterpart of L-Taylor would be Marques Colston or Hines Ward, but it sounds like Lionel was even better than those two.

    I was in the stands at the old RFK stadium in December 1984, when the Redskins beat the St. Louis Cardinals, 29-27, for the Eastern Division title. Early in the game, Art Monk caught his 100th pass of the season. We gave Art a standing ovation. Back then, catching 100 passes in a season was almost unheard of. Yet L-Taylor and Hennigan had both already done it–two decades earlier. Yes, Lionel Taylor should be in The Hall of Fame.

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