Jim Taylor took his share of hits during a Hall of Fame career as an NFL fullback, but nine years with the Green Bay Packers and one with the New Orleans Saints couldn't prepare him for the jolt that nearly took his life in June 2004. Taylor was on his daily six-mile walk in his native Baton Rouge when he felt his left arm cramp and his legs turn to jelly before his knees hit the pavement. Unable to move and the left side of his body numb, Taylor was having a stroke. "I had stayed fit, had never been on any kind of drug," says Taylor, who turns 70 in September. "And then boom! It was as if someone was turning the lights down on me."
Thanks to the quick action of a neighbor, Taylor was rushed by ambulance to a nearby hospital, where doctors discovered a blood clot in his brain. They were able to dissolve the clot with medication. Taylor spent eight days in the hospital and three months in physical therapy. He has had two procedures to correct an irregular heartbeat and is scheduled for a third in September. "I just bide my time and hope [the doctors] can accomplish what they need to," says Taylor, who at least doesn't have the numbness in his limbs or slurred speech that often linger in older stroke victims. "I kind of stay tired; I don't have a lot of energy."
During his heyday as a running back, Taylor was tireless. He had an All-America season as a senior at LSU, then was picked in the second round of the 1958 draft by Green Bay, which paired him in the backfield with Paul Hornung. Though small for a pro fullback, the 6-foot, 216-pound Taylor blocked and carried the ball with startling power. He rushed for more than 1,000 yards in five consecutive seasons (1960-64) and helped the Packers win four NFL titles, plus a game against the AFL-champion Kansas City Chiefs that came to be called Super Bowl I.
In '62 he beat Jim Brown for the rushing title and was league MVP. Following the '66 season he left the Packers over a contract dispute, spent one season with the Saints (130 carries for 390 yards) and then retired.
Taylor devoted much of his time to his Baton Rouge commercial real estate company, which he had started in '63, and maintained a 21-year association with the Saints, first as a radio broadcaster and later as a member of the club's p.r. and scouting departments.
These days his top priority is getting healthy enough to be able to resume golfing with friends and attend the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in August with his wife of 15 years, Helen. "I have all the faith in the world," he says, "that I'm going to get back to where I was before."--Andrew Lawrence