Where Are They Now

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Where Are They Now: Mike Taliaferro

Catch Up with the 1963 Draft Pick from Illinois

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One way or another, if Mike Taliaferro – a quarterback who helped lead Illinois to a Big Ten championship and a victory in the Rose Bowl – was going to play pro football, it was going to be in New York.

Chosen in the 10th round of the 1963 NFL Draft by the Giants, Taliaferro was also selected in the 28th round of that year's AFL Draft by the Jets.

He decided to go with the still wet behind the ears Jets because, well, they made a much better first impression.

"They flew out to California when we were going to play in the Rose Bowl, and that, combined with the visit I made to New York, impressed me. I sensed that they had a vision in putting an organization together and felt that I had a good chance to play quarterback for them," Taliaferro said.

"As opposed to the New York Giants, who seemed pretty occupied when they met with me. They seemed more intent on discussing their vacation plans and where they were going. They didn't have the same focus that (Jets head coach) Weeb (Ewbank) had. And of course, Weeb had a great track record of coaching in the NFL (with the Baltimore Colts)."

Playing behind Dick Wood as a rookie, Taliaferro stepped into the role of a seasoned veteran the following year when the Jets traded Wood to Oakland and cornered the quarterback market during the 1965 Draft, highlighted by choosing Alabama's Joe Namath with the first overall pick.

"They also drafted the guy who was the Heisman Trophy winner that year, (Notre Dame's) John Huarte. And another guy, (Virginia Tech's) Bob Schweickert," Taliaferro said. "So, they were drafting quarterbacks, which made me kind of concerned about what confidence, if anything, they had in me.

"But when you're young, you don't let that kind of stuff bother you. I just went out and performed the best I could. And looking back on it, I got the starting nod for the first regular-season game."

New York fell to Houston in that season-opener, 27-21. However, the game isn't the only thing that Taliaferro and the other Jets, as well as the Oilers, lost that day.

"It was scheduled to be played in the Astrodome, which is airconditioned. But for some reason it fell through. Nobody ever explained to any of the players why suddenly we'd be playing outside in late August in Houston, Texas, where it's typically about 90 degrees and 90 percent humidity. Somebody must have done somebody wrong to have that happen," Taliaferro laughed.

"And that was back when they didn't believe in anything like Gatorade or drinking any kind of supplemental fluid or anything. The course of the day was don't drink anything. So, I lost 18 pounds off of a 210(-pound) body just playing in that game. And, of course, everybody else did too."

The suddenly svelte Taliaferro would start four more games that season, and spend the next two years as a backup with the Jets before being traded to Boston.

"I realized that a career in professional football is very short. And if I was going to make a name for myself and earn any substantial income, I had to be a starting quarterback. They don't pay people sitting on the bench much," said Taliaferro, who was chosen to play in the 1969 Pro Bowl while with the Patriots.

"In fact, it really pales by comparison when you look at all of the contract information that you read about today. Joe, and rightfully so, got a $427,000 contract. But that didn't really tell the whole story. A lot of it were signed endorsements that (Jets owner) Mr. (Sonny) Werblin had put together and packaged with his regular salary. But it sold well in New York and it led on to a Super Bowl for the Jets."

Speaking of Werblin, Taliaferro's fondest memory from his time with the Jets didn't occur on the field or in the locker room, but on the team plane when the owner made a kind and generous offer which is still appreciated 54 years later.  

"We were playing on the west coast, in Oakland (in 1966), and I got word that my father had had a heart attack and was in the hospital in serious condition. That shook me up pretty bad," Taliaferro said. "And on the way back, I mentioned that to Mr. Werblin, and he re-directed the flight to New York to go to where my father was. In midair, he re-routed the flight.

"The plane landed in Chicago and he gave me $200, which at that time was enough to buy a ticket home. Which is what he said, 'When your father is better, here, use this to buy a ticket back to New York.'

"That's impressive, really when you think about it. I doubt seriously if many owners would have that type of human compassion to do something like that. Maybe all of them would, I don't know. But I suspect they wouldn't."

Playing nine seasons with the Jets, Patriots, and Buffalo Bills, what makes Taliaferro most proud of his gridiron career?

"Having aspired as a young boy to something like that, and having the perseverance and diligence to go for it," Taliaferro said. "Never realizing that I might not make it, but always confident in my ability if given an opportunity, I would make it."  

Following a second career in mortgage banking, involved primarily in financing single-family residential properties, Taliaferro is now enjoying his retirement. He and his wife, Kathleen, who make their home in Texas, have three daughters: Kathleen, Kristin, and Tricia; and three grandchildren.

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