If you told me two weeks ago that I would hear one of the greatest stories of true love and fate come from the mouth of a man whose other claim to fame is playing in The Big House, I would say you were crazy. You would probably have more luck learning about love from the cast of Temptation Island.
But I was wrong. Stories of great athletic achievement and true love were spoken to me in the same breath.
Two weeks ago was the first time I entered Whitehall Nursing Home. I thought a 20-minute interview with the man who scored the first touchdown at Michigan Stadium would be all I needed to to write an interesting column. But four hours and three visits later, I find myself contemplating what I will ask when I visit again. It was not just Kip Taylor”s story that struck me but how he told it. I hope I can do it justice while relaying it to all of you.
Taylor”s room in Whitehall stood apart from all the rest. Instead of newly-painted, unfriendly white walls bordering his confines, Taylor”s room was a page out of history. Photographs from playing football at Michigan and coaching at Oregon State hung from the walls.
The former athlete”s first order of business was not gloating about his amazing touchdown. He spoke of the photographs from his days of fame. But first, he spoke of the most important thing in his life Amber, the woman he married in 1965. The second I walked in the room, he presented me with a photograph of his high school sweetheart. Pressures from his and his girlfriend”s parents caused them to split up before Taylor entered Michigan in 1926.
Taylor began school, without his high school love, but with intentions of going out for the basketball team. An all-state athlete in both basketball and football in high school, Taylor didn”t believe he was good enough to play Michigan football. But Fielding Yost, whom Taylor was quite fond of, convinced him otherwise. Seen as just a visionary at the time, Yost told the athletic community in 1925 that he wanted to build a 75,000-capacity stadium in Ann Arbor of all places.
When Yost silenced his critics and opened the stadium in 1927, Taylor jumped at the opportunity to play in the revolutionary stadium that housed 72,000 Michigan faithful. And on Oct. 1 1927, Taylor who played halfback in high school was asked, to his surprise, to start at end for the Wolverines on opening day of Michigan Stadium.
Playing the other end was one of the greatest Wolverines ever. Captain Bennie Oosterbaan was the favorite target for Michigan, and while passes were thrown left to Oosterbaan, Taylor remained uncovered.
“They kept trying to hit him while I was wide open,” Taylor said. “I asked why they didn”t throw to me and they just said, “Shut up sophomore.”
“But two plays later they called the (halfback) pass and (Louis) Gilbert said “Listen sophomore, if I throw the ball to you, you better catch it.””
Taylor did. And history was made as a man who ended his playing career two games later caught the first touchdown ever in The Big House.
After two home shutouts, the team traveled to Wisconsin. But in the 1920s there were no carts to wheel players off the field for medical attention. So, when Taylor broke his neck during the game, the prescription was “Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.” Taylor took a train home in his condition and it wasn”t until a few days later that he received the medical attention he needed and was told he could not compete again.
Taylor”s injury caused the Wolverines to bring medics along on road trips. His playing days might have been over, but what spawned from his injury lengthened the careers of others.
Taylor will never forget his wonderful accomplishments as an athlete. But it was in 1949, when Taylor took a football head-coaching job at Oregon State, that his life really began. It was in Oregon where fate took its course. Taylor found a job that he loved, head coach of a program that had no money and no background all it had was a desire to beat Oregon. And Taylor led his team past the Ducks for five-straight years.
But the most amazing thing that
happened to him in Oregon did not take place on the field. His job with the team rekindled his relationship with Amber more than 30 years after they last saw each other. A surprise run-in with her brother brought the two back together to fulfill the love of his life. And now, in his 94th year, Taylor remembers Oregon State not only for defeating the Ducks, but also for bringing him back together with the one woman that he truly loved.
Three years ago, Taylor asked his grandchildren what they wanted for Christmas. They told him they wanted an autobiography of his life. In it he wrote, “Life is like football both are team activities none of us reach great success without the help of others.”
Stephanie Offen can be reached at email@example.com.