George Taliaferro, first African-American player drafted in NFL, dies at 91
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George Taliaferro, whom the Bears made the first African-American draft pick in NFL history 69 years ago, died Monday at 91.
The Bears picked Taliaferro, a native of Gary, Indiana, who grew up a fan of the team, in the 13th round of the 1949 NFL Draft. But he never played for the Bears because he already had agreed to play for the Los Angeles Dons of the All-America Football Conference.
Taliaferro, who played college ball at Indiana, was surprised by the selection. He learned he had been picked by the Bears when a friend showed him a headline in the Chicago Defender over lunch.
Taliaferro, who had received a $4,000 signing bonus from the Dons, considered joining the Bears anyway before his mother reminded him that his late father had preached trustworthiness.
‘‘I had to be a man of my word,’’ Taliaferro told the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News last year. ‘‘So I never even bothered getting back to George Halas and the Bears.’’
After the AAFC was absorbed into the NFL following the 1949 season, Taliaferro played for four NFL teams in the next six seasons: the New York Yanks (1950-51), Dallas Texans (1952), Baltimore Colts (1953-54) and Philadelphia Eagles (1955).
Taliaferro made three Pro Bowls and played an astonishing seven positions. He finished his pro career with 2,266 rushing yards and 1,300 receiving yards. He also completed 92 of 284 passes for 1,633 yards.
A graduate of Roosevelt High School in Gary, Taliaferro became one of the great players in Hoosiers history and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1981.
In 1945, he became the first African-American player to lead the Big Ten in rushing and helped Indiana claim its first Big Ten title. That squad, which finished 9-0-1, remains the Hoosiers’ only undefeated team.
After his football career ended, Taliaferro received a master’s degree from Howard University, taught at Maryland and was the dean of students at Morgan State. He and his wife of 67 years, Viola, returned to Bloomington, Indiana, where he served as a special assistant to the president and IUPUI chancellor.
‘‘He was a true trailblazer in every sense of the word and an individual of the greatest integrity whose impact will be forever felt at IU and throughout the Hoosier State,’’ Indiana president Michael McRobbie said in a statement.
Flags on campus will be lowered to half-staff through the Hoosiers’ homecoming game Saturday. Players will wear his No. 44 on their helmets instead of the Indiana logo.