Ge­orge Tali­a­ferro, 1st black drafted by NFL team, dies at 91

Porterville Recorder - - RECORD -

BLOOM­ING­TON, Ind. — Ge­orge Tali­a­ferro, the star In­di­ana run­ning back who in 1949 be­came the first black player drafted in the NFL when Ge­orge Halas and the Chicago Bears took him in the 13th round, has died. He was 91.

The uni­ver­sity spoke with Tali­a­ferro's fam­ily about his death in Ma­son, Ohio, se­nior as­so­ciate ath­letic di­rec­tor Jeremy Gray said Tues­day. Other de­tails were not dis­closed.

Tali­a­ferro was in­ducted into the Col­lege Foot­ball Hall of Fame in 1981. In the NFL, he played seven po­si­tions and earned Pro Bowl hon­ors in 1951-53.

He was the lead­ing rusher on In­di­ana's 1945 Big Ten cham­pi­onship team that went 9-0-1, the only un­de­feated team in school his­tory. Dur­ing his four years in Bloom­ing­ton he led the Hoosiers in rush­ing twice and pass­ing once.

It wasn't an easy tran­si­tion — the seg­re­ga­tion in Bloom­ing­ton was jar­ring — and Tali­a­ferro told the In­di­anapo­lis Star he once called his fa­ther in Gary, In­di­ana, and sug­gested he might come home and work to­gether in one of the U.S. Steel plants. His dad wouldn't hear of it.

"I lay awake all night try­ing to fig­ure ... out ... why ... he wouldn't help me," Tali­a­ferro told the Star. "And it came to me: That for the first 18 years of my life, ev­ery day I left my fa­ther and mother's house to go to school, they told me two things: 'We love you; you must be ed­u­cated.' It came to me that the other rea­son for my be­ing at In­di­ana Uni­ver­sity ... on the cam­pus at Bloom­ing­ton ... In­di­ana — was to be ed­u­cated."

In­di­ana said uni­ver­sity Pres­i­dent Her­man Wells once in­ter­vened with a lo­cal restau­rant to make sure he and Tali­a­ferro would be able to eat there. When the man­ager balked, Wells said he would make the restau­rant off lim­its to the stu­dent body and the man­ager re­lented.

The Bears se­lected Tali­a­ferro with the 129th over­all pick — a po­ten­tial dream come true for the Gary na­tive who grew up fol­low­ing the Bears. The prob­lem was that Tali­a­ferro had signed a week be­fore the draft with the Los An­ge­les Dons of the ri­val All Amer­ica Foot­ball Con­fer­ence, which had wel­comed black play­ers since its de­but in 1946.

Tali­a­ferro told the Day­ton Daily News last year he thought about re­turn­ing his $4,000 sign­ing bonus to the Dons in hopes it would clear the way for an NFL ca­reer, but then spoke with his mother.

"She said, 'What did you prom­ise your fa­ther?'" Tali­a­ferro told the Day­ton Daily News. "I knew right away. I had to be a man of my word, so I never even both­ered get­ting back to Ge­orge Halas and the Bears."

Tali­a­ferro rushed for 472 yards and five touch­downs and passed for an­other 790 yards and four scores in his rookie sea­son with the Dons in 1949. The AAFC merged with the NFL the fol­low­ing sea­son and Tali­a­ferro ended up with the New York Yanks for the 1950 sea­son. Tali­a­ferro rushed for 411 yards and four touch­downs and caught an­other 21 passes for 299 yards and five scores for the Yanks, lead­ing the team in touch­downs and help­ing them to a 7-5 record.

Tali­a­ferro spent five more years in the NFL. He to­taled 2,266 rush­ing yards, 1,300 re­ceiv­ing yards, 1,633 pass­ing yards and ac­counted for 37 touch­downs while play­ing for fran­chises in New York, Dal­las, Bal­ti­more and Philadel­phia. He lined up at quar­ter­back, run­ning back, wide re­ceiver, punter, kick re­turner, punt re­turner and de­fen­sive back.

Tali­a­ferro later earned a mas­ter's de­gree at Howard Uni­ver­sity, taught at Mary­land and served as dean of stu­dents at Mor­gan State. At In­di­ana, he also spent two decades serv­ing his alma mater in a num­ber of ca­pac­i­ties, in­clud­ing as a spe­cial as­sis­tant to the pres­i­dent, IUPUI chan­cel­lor and dean of School of So­cial Work. He was also ac­tive in help­ing the Chil­dren's Or­gan Trans­plant As­so­ci­a­tion.

Flags on the Bloom­ing­ton cam­pus were low­ered to half-staff through this week­end's home­com­ing game against Iowa. Tali­a­ferro's No. 44 will re­place the tra­di­tional logo on In­di­ana play­ers' hel­mets for the game and there will be a mo­ment of si­lence be­fore kick­off.

"He was a men­tor to me, and, like all great men­tors, was often one who was ap­pro­pri­ately chal­leng­ing me," ath­letic di­rec­tor Fred Glass said. "Sim­ply put, he was a great man and will be greatly missed."


In this 2012 photo, In­di­ana Uni­ver­sity alum­nus and for­mer NFL player Ge­orge Tali­a­ferro holds the "COL­ORED" sign he took from the Princess The­ater dur­ing the 1940s, when all the Bloom­ing­ton the­aters were seg­re­gated, in Bloom­ing­ton, Ind.

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