MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

The most difficult part of being the age some of us finally find ourselves being is losing the people in our lives we have loved and cared about for all or most of our lives.

Clearly this is meant to mean family, friends, neighbors and teachers throughout the course of our lives, who we’ve known, lived with, learned and grown with and loved.

Yet the dynamic is not limited to only those we’ve known personally. It goes beyond that and touches those we’ve known of, have been familiar with, who have been part of our lives and who we feel we’ve known our entire lives whether we have ever met them in our lives or not.

We’re talking about people we have admired, who, in the way they have expressed themselves and their talents, have had a profound effect on our lives, whether they have known they have or not.

For folks of my mother’s time, for instance, President Kennedy comes immediately to mind, as well as President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy. And my mother always remembered when, where she was and from whom she learned of the death of Babe Ruth.

For others, it could be Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, Bing Crosby (I don’t know why, either), Eddie Fisher or Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens (ask Don McLean).

As the Willie Nelson song goes, “My heroes have always been cowboys

“And they still are, it seems …

Having been lucky to be a sports fan and being lucky to have been surrounded by sports and to make my living, in large part, because of sports, my so-called heroes (other than those I’ve actually known and loved) have been, for the most part, writers and sports figures.

I knew the late Len Bias before he died, so, obviously, his death still bothers me and so many of us to this day.

Muhammad Ali, John Unitas, Paul Blair, Henry Aaron, Earl Weaver, Mike Curtis, Frank Robinson … Theirs are deaths that have legitimately rattled me, even though I met Unitas, Blair, Weaver and Robinson only briefly. Their deaths have rattled me because they had an impact on my life, my growing up and the way I view and respect others and many things in life.

The death of Charley Taylor, the Hall of Fame outside receiver for Washington, had the same kind of effect on me. I never met Charley Taylor; I did not know Charley Taylor. Until the day I’m the one who dies, like the aforementioned athletes and cultural figures, it will always feel to me, though, that I knew Charley Taylor, and I was tremendously saddened to have learned of his passing this past week.

Drafted as a running back out of Arizona State in 1964 and then shifted to wide receiver after being voted Rookie of the Year as a running back, Taylor went on to a Hall of Fame career catching passes until 1977 — 649, the most of any pass catcher in NFL history at the time.

He was moved to receiver by Coach Otto Graham and, along with Hall of Fame flanker Bobby Mitchell, tight end Jerry Smith and quarterback Sonny Jurgensen, helped form the nucleus of the most unstoppable offense in the 1960s NFL.

He was part of winning seasons in Washington under Vince Lombardi and George Allen, catching seven passes, with two going for touchdowns, in Washington’s 26-3 win over hated Dallas in the 1972 NFC Championship Game.

And with each touchdown he scored, he could somehow stop on a dime and turn around with the ball in one hand and both hands extended high over his head, to calmly, yet emphatically, remind everybody that, yes, that was Charley Taylor who scored this touchdown.

He coached on the Washington staff following his playing days and was always a friendly and meaningful face and fun-loving face of the franchise in the days when it was a meaningful and worthwhile franchise, for the league and for the fans of the Washington community.

Charley Taylor was just a man who fans loved. We loved to watch him play the fearless and electric brand of football that landed him in the Hall of Fame, and we loved to watch him be Charley Taylor – a man everybody seemed to love.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications and Pikewood Digital. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT