Born: March 31, 1962
Town: Pennsauken Township
John Gregory Taylor was born March 31, 1962 in Pannsauken Township to Alice and John Taylor. He was one of four children, and was especially close to his mother. Even as a boy, John was graceful, coordinated and good at almost anything he tried. What took others months and years to master took John days. This would be true throughout his life. Besides his proficiency catching footballs, he was an accomplished baseball and basketball player, and later a terrific bowler. John was also a tremendous leaper. A favorite trick was to throw the ball against the backboard from the foul line, catch it in midair, and then slam it through the basket.
John’s younger brother, Keith, was also a standout in football. He would go on to earn a scholarship to the University of Illinois and played nine seasons as a defensive back in the NFL, for the Colts, Saints and Redskins. They learned the game playing “funeral football”—pickup games in the local cemetery.
Both John and Keith starred for Vince McAneney’s varsity squad at Pennsauken High School. Playing both quarterback and receiver, John led the Indians to a conference title in 1979 and a South Jersey Group 4 championship as a senior in 1980. The Indians had a tremendous football program during this time. Along with John, they sent Bill and David Griggs, Dwight Hicks, Todd McNair and John’s brother Keith to the NFL. All were graduates of funeral football.
John took a year after graduation to work, then enrolled at Johnson C. Smith College in Charlotte, NC. He transferred to Delaware State University in 1984 and made the Hornets’ varsity as a walk-on. He went on to set team and conference records for touchdowns, scoring 42 in all. John set Mideastern Athletic Conference records for the longest TD catch (97 yards), most receiving yards in a game (223) and tied for the most career points (254). In 1985, as a senior, he was named MEAC Offensive Player of the Year, as the team finished 9–2 and won the MEAC title with a 5–-0 record. When John graduated, he held the NCAA record for career yards per catch, with 24.3.
San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh had a knack for finding mid-round bargains in the NFL draft. He grabbed John in the third round of the 1986 draft. John returned punts for his first two NFL seasons, and was a Pro Bowl pick in 1988 when he led the league with 556 yards, 2 TDs and a 12.6 yard average. That winter, in the Super Bowl, John caught the game-winning touchdown in a comeback win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
Earlier that year, John tested positive for cocaine and was suspended for the season’s first four games. He stayed clean for the remainder of his pro career, but for many years blamed his mother’s death on the publicity surrounding the positive test, and avoided talking to reporters.
In 1989, coach George Seifert paired John with All-Pro Jerry Rice in the 49ers’ vaunted West Coast offense. Rice was a superlative catch-and-run receiver; John soon became Joe Montana’s primary deep threat. In his first year as a regular, John reeled in 10 touchdown catches and went to his second Pro Bowl. Two of those touchdowns came in a Monday Nigh Football game against the Rams on receptions of 92 and 96 yards—the first time a player had two scoring catches over 90 yards. This helped him set a record for receiving yards in back-to-back games, with 448. The mark lasted until 2006.
John finished his career with 5,589 yards and 43 touchdowns on 347 catches. He also scored twice on punt returns. He was a key man in three San Francisco Super Bowl victories. He retired from football after the 1995 season at age 33, with a sore right knee that had become arthritic. He remained in the Bay Area, where he owned his own trucking company, and he has been active with a number of charities on both coasts.