The NFL is celebrating its 100th season, and there are many behind-the-scenes stories still to be told. Over the course of this season, Times NFL writer Sam Farmer will pull back the curtain and tell some of those, through the eyes of the players and coaches who lived them.
Kitrick Taylor no longer has the football, but he clings tightly to the memory of a special Sunday when he helped usher in an unforgettable NFL era.
Taylor, a former Pomona High star who played at Washington State, was a journeyman receiver who began his NFL career as a fifth-round pick by Kansas City and later played for New England, San Diego, Green Bay and Denver.
His most notable NFL achievement: He caught the first game-winning touchdown pass in the career of Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre.
“It never leaves my mind,” said the soft-spoken Taylor, 55, who lives in Murrieta and has a business helping people improve their financial credit scores.
The football has left his possession, however. He had to auction it off a couple years ago to make ends meet. The funny thing about that ball is that, for a long while, Taylor didn’t realize how significant it was. After all, at the time Taylor figured he’d catch a bunch of touchdown passes in his career, and who knew whether the Favre guy would ever throw another one?
Well, that was the lone touchdown reception Taylor would make in the pros.
But for years, that ball was just a ball, toted to family picnics by Taylor’s four kids, splashed through mud puddles, skidded across the pavement, left out in the sun. When he realized the significance of that pigskin, Taylor had it restored.
The memory of Sept. 20, 1992, requires no touching up.
With less than a minute to play at Lambeau Field, the Packers were trailing the Cincinnati Bengals 23-17. Favre had replaced starter Don Majkowski, who had left with a sprained ankle, and Taylor had stepped in for Sterling Sharpe, who had a rib injury after falling on the ball wrong.
Those two backups, Favre and Taylor, would make the deciding play in a game first-year coach Mike Holmgren would call “the happiest win of my life.”
The Packers were 35 yards from the end zone when Favre called an “all go,” essentially telling his receivers to run straight up the field and try to get open. The speedy Taylor was lined up on the right side.
Taylor and tight end Jackie Harris were running parallel go routes up the right side and had position on the players initially covering them. The safety over the top had to make a choice of which player to double cover. The safety chose Harris, so Favre threw to Taylor.
“I was on the outside, and I wasn’t really thought of, because — who am I?” Taylor said. “Once I get past that corner, and I saw that safety wasn’t coming over, I thought, that ball’s coming to me. I knew it. I looked back, I see Brett pump, take a couple steps, and he just launched me the ball.”
For Taylor, the memory of the 35-yard touchdown unfurls in slow motion.
“It’s like the lights went out, the crowd got real quiet, and it was just me and the ball,” he said. “For a second, I lost the ball in the glare of the lights. It was a late afternoon game, and they had the lights on. But if you look at that catch real closely, it wasn’t a clean catch. But when I lost it in the lights it was like, OK, just keep your hands right here and your arms closed and it’s got to fall in there somewhere.”
Sure enough, the ball landed in his cradled arms just as he crossed the goal line, and suddenly, Taylor could see and hear again.
“Then it seemed like everybody woke up, the lights came back on, and it’s like, `OK, you’re not dreaming. Wake up,’” he said.
Said Favre of the throw at the time: “I couldn’t bear to look. I just closed my eyes and waited for the crowd to let me know.”
Taylor said his memory is not what it once was. He’s a party to the league’s concussion settlement. But the sights, sounds and thrills of that day are seared into his mind.