Significant Events in Broncos History: Lionel Taylor Becomes First Pro Football Receiver to Catch 100 Passes in a Single Season (1961)

autographed 1961 topps lionel taylor

#190 – Lionel Taylor

Recently, Brian Shrout, a writer and Broncos fan at the Mile High Report (www.milehighreport.com) put together a nice piece on Lionel Taylor, one of the first great Broncos players.  As we have discussed before, Taylor’s star was dulled somewhat because of the poor Broncos teams for which he toiled.  Still, you cannot argue with the statistics, and Taylor’s are great.  Enjoy!

When Pat Bowlen became the majority owner of the Denver Broncos in 1984, one of his first major acts was the creation of the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame at Mile High Stadium in honor of great players who had worn the Orange and Blue.

There were four initial inductees to the Ring in 1984. They were safety Austin “Goose” Gonsoulin (1960-66), defensive end Rich Jackson (1967-72), running back Floyd Little (1967-75) and wide receiver Lionel Taylor (1960-66).  Many of us may not remember that Lionel Taylor did not start out as a football player — he played basketball and ran track for New Mexico Highlands University. The first football job he held was as a linebacker  for the Chicago Bears in 1959. He appeared in just eight games for the Bears and amassed no statistics.

Taylor made a significant move in 1960 when he jumped to the newly formed American Football League and joined the Denver Broncos. According to Jim Saccomano, in his book

2nd week of the 1960 season & made his debut against the New York Titans in New York (6 for 125 1 – 31-yd pass from Frank Tripucka). He finished that first season with 92 receptions for 1235 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Then in 1961, Taylor accomplished something which had never been done before by a professional football wide receiver: he caught 100 passes in a single season. It is important to remember that prior to 1978 both the AFL and the NFL played fourteen game seasons.

This is very remarkable when we consider that since the NFL began play in 1920, only 76 players have ever eclipsed the century mark in receptions (this data is drawn from pro-football-reference.com and includes wide receivers, running backs and tight ends). As an interesting footnote, the second player to catch 100 or more passes was Charley Hennigan of the Houston Oilers in 1964. After that, the NFL had to wait twenty years until the Washington Redskins Art Monk accomplished the feat in 1984. Fifty of the seventy-six players have done so since 2000.

Let’s get back to Taylor, however, since he was the first to accomplish this feat. His 1961 season, when individual games are examined, does not look all that remarkable. He only had two games with double digit receptions and only three games with touchdowns.

Yet, Taylor was a steady and reliable performer during 1961. He had only one game with fewer than 5 receptions (4 on 10-22-61 vs the New York Titans). Taylor had nine games with 7 or more receptions. He topped 75 receiving yards in seven
games, topped 100 receiving yards in five games and topped 120 receiving yards in three games. He finished the 1961 season with 100 receptions for 1176 yards and 4 touchdowns.

This would prove to be the second of four seasons as a Bronco in which Taylor topped the 1000-yard mark in receiving yards. In fact, Taylor averaged 84.7 catches per season during his seven years as a Bronco.

Sadly, 1961 was not a good season for the Broncos overall, as they went just 3-11-0 for a 4th place finish in the AFL West. While Taylor was outstanding for the Broncos in receiving, the Denver quarterbacks (Frank Tripucka and George
Herring) were not, throwing a combined 43 interceptions to just 15 touchdowns.

Go Broncos!!!!!!

Todd Tobias (790 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.


4 Responses to Significant Events in Broncos History: Lionel Taylor Becomes First Pro Football Receiver to Catch 100 Passes in a Single Season (1961)

  1. chris burford says:

    Lionel was , indeed, a great player….he was damn near all they had on offense and even though we knew where the ball was going, he was hard to stop,; a tenacious, hard working receiver who was the Broncos primary, and at times, only threat. They, and Houston, seemed ts throw more then anyone else in the league, but it was necessary for them to move the ball and that’s where their greatest talents were.

  2. John Spoulos says:

    After reading these great stories about thoes fabled players from the past, I wonder what those players are thinking of the players today, their lack of respect for their fans, their trouble with the law, and in general, their lack of skills, Many players in the league today cannot catch a football when its thrown between their numbers. as for tackling, Lombardi must be turning in his grave. Remember the Saints playoff game a few years ago when eight players missed the tackle of the running back.. With that in mind, I am so appreciative of Todd’s blog on here where he reminds all of us fans how the players and the game once were.. Thanks for that Todd.

  3. Virgil Baldon, Jr. says:

    Is there a concerted effort to get Messrs. Lionel Taylor, Winston Hill, Johnny Robinson, Jim Tyrer, Houston Antoine and others into the Pro Football Hall Of Fame? If not, why not? If so, how do we fans help? Remember this…all members of the final AFL rookie class of 1969 are now at or just above 65 years of age. Time is running short for these and other very deserving ex-AFL players to receive their overdue recognition.

    If an individual fan can nominate players to the Seniors Committee HOF ballot, consider this my motion to nominate the above-named players-and I’ve got several other ex-AFL standouts (e.g. Paul Maguire, Paul Lowe,
    Ernie Wright, all 10-year AFLers) I could nominate. Let’s get crackin’!!

  4. Tom says:

    Recently I purchased a 1940 AAU Track and Field program, the meet was held in Fresno, Ca in Ratcliffe Stadium on June 28.29 1940, 1940 was an Olympic year but the games were cancelled following Hitlers’ invasion of Poland. The meet featured many that would have otherwise competed in the Olympics including Glen Cunnigham, Lou Zamperini, Payton Jordan , Harold Davis among others to include one time Broncos head coach Mac Speedie and Clarence Gehrke, a relation to Fred Gehrke who would later become the Broncos President of Football Operations, both Speedie and Gehrke represented The U of Utah.

    What I found of interest was that one of the participants was Lionel T Taylor who competed in the 200 M representing the US Marine Corps, stationed at San Clemente Island. Obviously not the same as the Broncos Lionel Taylor as that Taylor in 1940 would have been about five years old, but it would be a most strange coincidence if they were related.

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