HAWL IN: The late George Taliaferro and the Bears made history together
CHICAGO – He never once played a down wearing the orange and blue, but it’s with that team that George Taliaferro made some important NFL history.
His connection to the Chicago Bears is being remembered Tuesday after his death at the age of 91, which was announced by his sports organization on Twitter.
The athlete, who spent his high school years in Gary, never played a down for the Bears, but he along with the franchise made significant history together in the name of equality.
Taliaferro became the first African-American to be drafted by an NFL team in December of 1948 as part of the selections for the 1949 season. The Bears selected the talented quarterback and running back from Indiana in the 13th round with the 129th overall pick. Even though he was a three-time All-American for the Hoosiers, leading the Big Ten in rushing in 1945, Taliaferro didn’t believe a team would select him due to an African-American never being selected by an NFL team.
So he signed a contract with the Los Angeles Dons of the All-American Football conference a week before.
He honored his commitment to the league for the 1949 season and joined the NFL with the New York Yanks in 1950, playing till 1955 with them and three other teams. Taliaferro reached the Pro Bowl in 1952 with the Yanks, 1953 with the Dallas Texans, and again in 1954 with the Baltimore Colts.
During his time in the NFL he played a number of positions, including quarterback, throwing for 1,633 yards and ten touchdowns. His stats as a running back were his most impressive, averaging 4.6 yards a carry during his years in the league, scoring 15 touchdowns on the ground while picking up 2,266 yards. Taliaferro also caught 95 passes for 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns as well.
Playing seven positions in his career made him versatile, and he continued to serve a number of roles at Indiana University until his death this week.
Yet one of his greatest legacies outside of Bloomington could very well be here in Chicago. The Bears were willing to step out and become the first organization to draft an African-American, opening the day for many over the next seven decades to earn a chance in the league.
Taliaferro’s efforts at Indiana, which also included helping to desegregate restaurants in Bloomington as told in this story from the school’s athletic department, along with his part in NFL history makes him a trailblazer for civil rights efforts in the 20th century.
It’s moments like that which are celebrated after his death on Tuesday, with part of his legacy living on in the Windy City.