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Mike Taylor, Steelers Offensive Lineman, 1968-1969

March 8, 2012
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Mike Taylor:

First, can you let readers know what you have been doing with yourself since your NFL days and how your time in the NFL helped influence your post-NFL careers? 

In 1972 while I was playing for the St. Louis Cardinals, I decided to buy an 18-wheeler and start an independent trucking business named for myself. Shortly thereafter, my wife and I started a small woman’s clothing apparel boutique that she managed near our home in Alta Dena, CA. About 1980

I set my independent trucking interests aside and became a supervisor for a fairly new privately held California trucking company called Viking Freight Systems that was later acquired by Fed-Ex. I stayed there until my retirement as the Operations Manager in 2006. While working for Fed-Ex, my passion and zest for Southern cuisine – specifically BBQ Ribs, Tri-Tip, Chicken, Cajun Sausage and those great culinary delights I’d experienced from my youth – led me to begin a restaurant in Folsom, CA that I named BBQ-Express. 

Even though I recently closed the doors, I remain passionate about my BBQ cuisine and will continue to cater private events and attend various social functions in the region as a food vendor. In conjunction with BBQ Express, our family also owns Po’Boyz Restaurant in Folsom, CA which is a sports bar and grill.

My time in the NFL taught me that it was best to become an independent operator because of the uncertainties of employment. I learned that the only person you can truly count on is yourself as no one will look after your interests better than you will. Pinning your hopes on management’s unrealized promises became a wakeup call in reality. At the end of the day, it all comes down to putting on your own shoes and leaving your own footprints. 

You were the first round pick by the Steelers in 1968. How difficult was it for you to be drafted by a team that had struggled at the time to win…

Actually, all I ever wanted was a chance to play in the NFL. It was a mission of mine from my childhood after watching the Cleveland Browns on Sundays when I would emphatically tell family and friends that someday I would play in the NFL. I am very grateful that Art and Dan Rooney along with the Steelers organization and coaching staff saw something positive in me to have drafted me as their first pick in 1968. 

To this day, it remains a very fond memory that was a life changing moment from those early days of my childhood growing up as a kid in Louisville, KY.

As a rookie, who helped you adjust to the NFL – both on and off the field – and how? Any examples?

As far as those who helped me as a rookie in the NFL, there were several. Coach Leon McLaughlin our offensive line coach was a mentor to me and one who truly seemed to have your interests at heart. He wished for my success with my career and was quite knowledgeable about offensive line play in the NFL.

My roommate/teammate Ray May who was our starting middle linebacker at the time was also very instrumental as were teammates John Brown, Ben McGee, Roy Jefferson and Marv Woodson who all made me feel welcome and acclimated me to the Pittsburgh area. 

Initially when I came to the team, there were some contractual issues that nearly prevented me from playing for the Steelers. Thanks to Mr. Art Rooney who stepped in and settled the dissention, his positive actions created a wonderful experience for me. Ed Kiley is another who gave me some great advice and insight regarding the handling of my finances — valuable lessons that I have carried to this day.

You were a California guy even through college – then you end up playing on the East coast in Pittsburgh. Did that make the adjustment to the NFL for you more difficult – and was the NFL adjustment for you tougher physically or mentally for you overall

It didn’t matter one bit. When I played at USC we played a nationwide schedule in front of packed stadiums across the country. Heck, we played in front of bigger crowds at Notre Dame and at home in the LA Coliseum where crowds of 100 thousand were typical; or even the Rose Bowl from being National Champions my senior year.

So when I came to Pittsburgh, sad to say, the crowds were smaller than what I had played in front of during my college football days. 

Actually, my transition into the NFL was greatly facilitated from playing for great coaches at USC like John McKay, Marv Goux and Dave Levy. The talent level at SC raised the bar a great deal. My senior year we had 6 first round draft picks from our National Championship team that year. 

What did you and your teammates think about Coach Bill Austin – What was he like as a coach and why do you think the team struggled under him

Coach Austin was a hard worker as was his coaching staff. I think he would have had the talent he truly needed to compete in the NFL at that particular time, things may have been different and Chuck Noll may not have shown up. Who can say? I truly believe that Bill Austin didn’t have the players to compete effectively within the tough weekly NFL schedule. 
 
1969 was Chuck Noll’s first season in Pittsburgh. What did you and the rest of the team think of Coach Noll and what were the biggest changes he instituted that first season? 

Chuck Noll was a damn good coach! He started changing out the roster and drafted Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood and others that ultimately turned things around in Pittsburgh. 

I remember a great compliment that Chuck Noll paid me in front of my Steeler teammates during the film session after our game with the Chicago Bears in 1969. He said: “If we had more effort put out by others, as Mike Taylor did against the Bears, we would win a few more games here in Pittsburgh.” It was a nice pat on the back from Chuck Noll, even though the next week my bags were packed and I was on my way to New Orleans. And so goes the life of an NFL football player. 
 
Who were some of the biggest characters on those Steelers teams you played for and what made them so? Any examples/funny memories? 

 Bill Saul is the one I remember most as the biggest character on the team. We had these rookie parties where Bill would always challenge the rookies to beer chugging contests. When it came to chugging glasses of beer, Bill could place the whole glass in his mouth and just tilt his head back and it was gone! Needless to say, he was always the champ. The next day we all paid our dues on the practice field from those rookie beer chugging sessions. 
 
After the ’69 season, you found yourself in New Orleans. What prompted your departure from Pittsburgh and how difficult was that for you? 

My departure from the Steelers was strictly based on coaching and management decisions. As one of two starting offensive tackles, the move took me by complete surprise as it would with anyone else I suppose.

Luckily for me, I was a single guy at the time so moving a family wasn’t a concern. In reflection you somehow question as why things happened the way they did, but move on because it’s just business and nothing personal so you set your feelings aside and move on to bigger and better things. 
 
As a retiree, what are your thoughts on how the NFL and NFLPA have helped your generation of players? Has it done enough – why/why not? 

If you spend enough time reading various publications or blogs regarding the physical, mental and emotional hardships suffered by my contemporaries, it can become a Pandora’s Box of sorts that most would rather not open. That being said, I’m happy that the NFL and the NFLPA have taken the positive steps they have over the last few years and implemented the Legacy Fund, the “88 Plan” named for John Mackey and the Long Term Disability plan as well.

The NFL needs to step it up and further compensate those whose lives have been greatly impacted from playing in the NFL. Understanding arguments from both sides of the table and working through them collaboratively in a win-win scenario will take time. If it weren’t for the players on the field filling the seats on game day, there wouldn’t be billionaires running NFL franchises.

Adversely, if it weren’t for those early entrepreneurs that realized an advantage to create the NFL and the game it has become, I wouldn’t have had my childhood dream fulfilled. So it’s a two-edged sword that needs to be carefully held. I always hope the right things will be done for the good of all involved. Of course my sympathy lies with my contemporaries as those who set the stage for what is enjoyed today. Enough said…
 
What are your thoughts on the way the NFL has changed since you played – both the rules and the players?  

Things have changed a great deal. It’s not the same game that I played back in my day. Those old “three yards and a cloud of dust” days seem gone forever. Although the 49ers did a pretty good job of things this past season with their running game.

Frankly, I think something has been lost with all the wide open offensive sets and the passing game aerobatics that have changed the game so much. Don’t get me wrong in the sense of entertainment value because it works. But I’m an old schooler who was taught some valuable life lessons on the football field through my exposure to the game. Grinding things out is relative to life as a team working together as one by performing your individual task to help the team effort.

Today it seems like it’s more about individual performance first, before anything with the team. 
 
What are some of your greatest memories of your time in Pittsburgh? 

The greatest single memory I have is being drafted #1 by the Steelers.  I also loved the people of Pittsburgh.  Lloyd Voss, John Henderson and I would go hunting on local area farms chasing after rabbits and squirrels. There was a warm sense of community that I felt the minute I became familiar with the area. We enjoyed our social life as teammates and were embraced by the fans no matter if we won or lost.

Pittsburgh has great heart and it showed right away. I own fond memories from my brief time in Pittsburgh. 
 
Any last thoughts for readers? 

In my opinion, the Steelers have probably the greatest fan base in the nation.

Our Po’Boyz Restaurant http://poboyzbarandgrill.com/  in Folsom, CA is home to “The Steel City Mafia” that supports the Pittsburgh Steelers locally. My rookie picture from the Steelers hangs on the wall as a fond memory I’m happy to share with those that spend time at our family eatery.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Denise permalink
    June 6, 2013 3:04 pm

    Great article. My mom and uncles attended high school with Mr. Taylor

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