Updated: Dec 14, 2020
Jerry Rice is possibly the greatest football player of all time but for much of his time in San Francisco, he shared the field with fellow receiver John Taylor. What many forget is that Taylor was just as fast and gifted as Rice and he would often command a lot of attention from the defense. Due to Taylor’s involvement in the 49ers offense, Jerry Rice was able to enjoy a more spread out defense and put together a Hall of Fame career. This is John Taylor’s story.
John Taylor was born on March 31, 1962 in Pennsauken Township, New Jersey. After graduating Pennsauken High School, he made an unsuccessful attempt at walking on at John C. Smith University. Delaware State gave him a shot and he walked on the football team the following year. He was sensational, breaking the NCAA record for yards per catch with 24.3 and receiving 33 touchdowns for his career. After catching 13 touchdown passes in his senior year, Taylor was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the 3rd round of the 1986 NFL Draft.
After sitting out his rookie season, John Taylor only caught nine passes for 151 yards in 1987. He only recorded 14 passes for 325 yards and two touchdowns; however, he was terrific on special teams, leading the league with 552 punt return yards and two touchdowns. Due to his proficiency as a punt returner, Taylor was invited to his first Pro Bowl. He forever captured the hearts of the 49er Faithful when he caught the game winning touchdown pass from Joe Montana in Super Bowl XIII.
He truly became great as a receiver in 1989, catching 60 passes for 1,077 yards and 10 touchdowns. America took notice when he caught two touchdown passes of more than 90 yards against the Rams on Monday Night Football.
He was invited to his second consecutive Pro Bowl that year and the 49ers won the Super Bowl. The 49ers were on the hunt for a three straight Super Bowl championship in 1990 and Taylor was a major factor. He caught 49 passes for 748 yards and seven touchdowns. However, those good numbers couldn’t get him invited to the Pro Bowl and the 49ers ultimately stumbled in the NFC Championship Game.
The 1991 season was the 49ers first with Steve Young as the full time starting quarterback. Although the team finished out of the playoffs for the first time since 1982, Taylor excelled, catching a career high 64 passes for 1,011 yards and nine touchdowns. He was injured for much of the following year as the team went 14-2 and lost to the Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game.
Taylor bounced back nicely in 1993, catching 56 passes for 940 yards and five touchdowns. They lost to the Cowboys again in the NFC Championship Game, frustrating the entire organization as well as the rest of the Bay Area.
Taylor was 32 when the 1994 season began and he began to lose some of his athleticism. However, the team didn’t need to rely on his once great speed to win games as they had spent the offseason loading up on Pro Bowl and Hall of Fame talent. John Taylor caught 41 passes for 531 yards and five touchdowns for the eventual Super Bowl champions. He was marginally effective as a pass catcher in 1995, catching 29 passes for 387 yards and two touchdowns. He retired after the season and now works as a truck driver.