|San Jose Mercury News SPORTS
Former 49er John Taylor reminisces
about Super Bowl catch
By Daniel Browndbrown@mercurynews.com
(Interviewed prior to Mr. Taylor's appearance
at Serramonte during the January 2016 Sports Card Show)
DALY CITY -- Every once in a while someone from John Taylor's family will sound the alarms. They go looking
for the 49ers receiver whenever his winning catch in Super Bowl XXIII hits the airwaves. "They always come
in and tell me, 'Your game is on! Your game is on!' "And I say, 'OK, I've seen it enough times now.' " Taylor
might be alone on that count, at least around these parts. There are 49ers fans who will never tire of watching
one of the most thrilling finishes in Super Bowl history. Friday marks the anniversary of his claim to fame: a
10-yard touchdown pass to cap a 20-16 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. That was on Jan. 22, 1989, at Joe
Robbie Stadium, as quarterback Joe Montana engineered a 92-yard drive in the final minutes. Taylor's catch
came with 34 seconds to spare. "To this day, I never paid any attention to the magnitude or the effect that it
had," Taylor said in a phone interview Thursday. "I always thought to myself: Nobody would have
congratulated me if I'd dropped that pass." Instead, the New Jersey native has a secure place in football lore
and will be mentioned more than once in advance of Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium on Feb. 7.
Taylor, 53, remembers the play vividly, of course, even without the replays. He recalled Thursday that it was a
scheme coach Bill Walsh implemented specifically for Super Bowl XXIII. Walsh and the coaching staff noticed
during film study that Cincinnati left the middle of the field vulnerable with one of their red-zone defenses. So
the 49ers devised a play that would send Jerry Rice -- the team's most feared target -- to the left corner, even
further opening up the inside for Taylor. With everything on the line on Sunday, the Bengals lined up just as
the 49ers had hoped. Taylor knew even before the snap that the 49ers' fate would be in his hands.
"Everybody at home was figuring it was going to go to Jerry. And that was exactly the way it worked out in
practice," Taylor said. "Everybody was looking for him, and I just snuck through the middle because there was
no linebacker there. "As soon as I stepped to the left and I saw the free safety turn, that's when I broke back
across his face. And it was too late for him. I knew I had him.”
Taylor returned to the Bay Area Sunday January 24 where he signed free autographs at the Serramonte
Center in Daly City. He appeared from between 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. (For information: www.tbcashows.info)
He has done a handful of such signings over the years and said fans tend to want to chat about two topics. No.
1 is his Super Bowl catch. No. 2 is the time he had 11 catches for 286 yards against the Los Angeles Rams on
"Monday Night Football." "I always hear about the Rams game -- especially now. It's a big thing with the Rams
moving back to LA," he said. "Everyone is telling me, 'Hey, man! The Rams are coming back to town!' "
But Taylor was hardly a one-catch or a one-game wonder. During his 49ers career from 1987-95, he twice
topped 1,000 receiving yards and was a dangerous return man who made two Pro Bowls. Taylor was elected
to the NFL's 1980s All-Decade squad as the second-team return man -- a stunning development, considering
the 49ers didn't want him in that role. Taylor laughed Thursday as he recalled trotting out to the field to try out
for a spot as a 49ers punt returner. Walsh stopped him cold. "Bill saw me trying out for punt returns and he
said to me, 'No, no. You can't do it. You're too much of a long strider.' That's what he said to me! "I said, 'All I'm
asking for is a chance. What do you have to lose?' "
Walsh gave the third-round pick from Delaware State a shot at returning punts in the Hall of Fame preseason
game against the Kansas City Chiefs in August of 1987. Taylor returned his first punt 49 yards. He returned the
second one 64 yards for a touchdown. "When I came back after scoring, I walked past Bill -- and I will never
forget this -- I looked at him and said, 'Yeah, you're right. I can't return punts. I take too long of a stride.'
"And he just smiled at me."
Taylor is based in Southern California these days, but it's more accurate to say he lives on the highways. He
spends his days as a truck driver and for 13 years operated his own trucking business, making coast-to-coast
trips to the East Coast. He scrapped his business in 2011 and now works for JTC Company making regular
runs hauling produce from Oxnard to Arizona. He spoke Thursday from Yuma, where he was waiting for his rig
to get loaded. "I've always loved to drive," he said. "I like being out on the road and seeing different things
every day." In trucking, as in Super Bowls, Taylor knows to finish a drive.
Follow Daniel Brown on Twitter at twitter.com/mercbrownie.