Today marks just three weeks until the NFL's opener where the Kansas City Chiefs and Detroit Lions will face off on Thursday Night Football, meaning that we are just 24 days away until the first Sunday of the season. To celebrate the season's rapid approach, today's installment of Chicago Bears Countdown to Kickoff brings us to the life and career of the best player in franchise history to don the number 24, legendary defensive back Rosey Taylor.
Rosey Taylor's path from basketball star to Chicago Bears free safety
Hailing originally from Eudora, Arkansas, Roosevelt Taylor was moved by his mother to New Orleans, Louisiana at four years old, where he remained for the rest of his childhood. In his teenage years, Taylor, who was often referred to by "Rosey", attended Joseph S Clark High School, where he was a three-sport athlete in football, basketball, and track.
Taylor's premier sport was basketball, and his insane athleticism help him excel despite his size. At just 5'11", a bouncy Taylor was capable of dunking by his junior season. After earning letters in every sport and graduating in 1956, Taylor was not a highly touted recruit in any sport, but would eventually join Grambling State University's basketball team as a walk-on.
At Grambling State, Taylor earned a basketball scholarship following his first semester, although he would eventually transition to being a full-time football player by his junior campaign. On the gridiron, Taylor's dynamism as an athlete transitioned well on the backend of the defense, and despite being often outsized by his opponent, his bounce and speed made him a ballhawk in the secondary.
In his junior season, Taylor was a starter on a talented Grambling defense that helped propel the team to a 1960 SWAC Championship. Regarded as one of the best HBCU football players of his time, Taylor quickly became a well-known name for his prowess as a safety.
Following his senior season, Taylor became eligible to join the NFL but unfortunately went undrafted during the 1961 NFL Draft. Nonetheless, Taylor elected to sign with the Chicago Bears as a free agent, where he quickly became a consistent contributor in the secondary.
Rosey Taylor becomes Pro Bowler, NFL Champion with Chicago Bears
In his first year as a pro, Taylor made appearances in all 14 games, even making five starts at free safety. He managed only one fumble recovery as a rookie, but by the following year, the Grambling State product started all but one game in the secondary, where he logged 1.5 sacks, two interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown, and a fumble recovery.
In 1963, Taylor had his best year as a pro and logged a league-leading nine interceptions while starting in every game. Taylor also recorded three fumble recoveries en route to being named a First-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowler. His dominant season helped the team post an 11-1-2 record en route to finishing first in the conference. In the ensuing NFL Championship game, Taylor manned the backend of a talented defense that included the likes of Bill George, Joe Fortunato, and Doug Atkins. With the help of offensive standouts Mike Ditka, Johnny Morris, and Ronnie Bull, the Chicago Bears won the NFL Championship game.
Following the championship run, Taylor remained a stalwart starter at safety, and consistently caused turnovers on the backend of the defense. Over the next three seasons, Taylor started all 42 games and caused three total turnovers each year. Regarded as one of the league's premier defensive backs, he was again named to the All-Pro team in 1965.
In 1967, Taylor had one of the best years of his career, and despite not earning any post-season awards, he logged an impressive seven turnovers, highlighted by five interceptions. He also recorded the only fumble recovery touchdown of his NFL career during the year.
The next season, Taylor returned to the Pro Bowl after finishing his eighth season with three interceptions, one of which was returned for a 96 yard touchdown, the longest such return by any player in the league during the year.
Chicago Bears trade Rosey Taylor, retirement, legacy, and life after football
The following year, the Chicago Bears as a team struggled, and finished with just one win on the year. Despite being led by younger players such as Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus, the team appeared far from their 1963 championship level of dominance and decided to trade Taylor to San Francisco in exchange for guard Howard Mudd halfway through the season. He played the first six games with the Bears, where he logged one sack, and finished the year with five starts for the 49ers, where he logged two interceptions.
With the 49ers, Taylor played two more full seasons, finishing with eight interceptions and a fumble recovery across 34 total games and 30 starts. Following his stint in San Francisco, Taylor played for the Washington Redskins for one year. He recorded one interception in 14 starts in Washington and helped the team reach Super Bowl VII, eventually losing to the Don Shula-led undefeated Miami Dolphins. Following the loss, Taylor retired from the NFL after a 12 year career as a professional.
Across his decade in the NFL, Taylor spent eight (and a half) seasons with the Bears. In Chicago, Taylor never missed a single game and ended up starting in 108 of 118 contests. During that time, he totaled 23 interceptions and 12 fumble recoveries, combining for four defensive touchdowns en route to being named a two-time Pro Bowler, a two-time All-Pro player, and an NFL Champion.
Following his NFL career, Taylor received recognition for his play on the field. Specifically, he was inducted into Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame, specifically for his time as a multi-sport athlete in high school and college, the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, and the Grambling Hall of Fame.
Taylor was named by the Chicago Tribune as the 43rd-best player in Chicago Bears' history. Taylor's 22 total interceptions are ranked tenth best in franchise history, just one spot ahead of legends Brian Urlacher and Dick Butkus.
With deep ties to the franchise, Taylor's son, Brian, would join the team many years later in 1989. Despite only playing one year with the team, the fullback made five appearances for the team and shared a backfield with a number of other talented backs including Neal Anderson, Brad Muster, and Matt Suhey.
Away from football, Taylor did a lot of work to benefit his community. Following his retirement, President Richard Nixon invited Taylor to the White House to participate in an anti-drug campaign alongside other former athletes. He also established the "Rosey Taylor Football Camp", a non-profit event aimed to benefit young men, specifically underprivileged African-American players.
Professionally, Taylor had a number of endeavors, including working as a football commentator and his work in business, including owning hotels, restaurants, and a trucking company, mainly across the greater New Orleans area.
Unfortunately, in 2020 Taylor passed away at the age of 82. He will be remembered as an elite defender for the Chicago Bears and an NFL Champion, as well as being a leader on and off the field and a role model for many.