(Editor’s note: MTN Sports began recognizing some of the best football players in Montana history on July 2 with the launch of the #MTTop40. The series started with defensive backs and will run eight weeks, featuring one position each week, concluding with quarterbacks the week of Aug. 20-24 to coincide with Montana’s high school football season opener. This week, we profile the linebackers.)
No. 5 linebacker – Pat Taylor, Great Falls CMR
No defensive position has evolved in football more over the years than linebacker. From traditional thumpers to pass-rush specialists to athletic cover ‘backers, the position has seen all types, but Montana football historians generally agree: When he played, Pat Taylor was as good as anybody.
Pat Taylor stat sheet
On talent alone, there might not be a better linebacker in Montana’s history than Taylor. Former Montana coaches and other football historians singled out Taylor as a tough, mean, athletic linebacker who easily ranked among the state’s best, but off-the-field issues seemingly slowed his football career. Taylor was an all-state player at Great Falls CMR in the early 1980s when the Rustlers were regulars in the Class AA state championship games. CMR played for the title in nine consecutive seasons from 1978-86, but Taylor didn’t play in the Rustlers’ win over Helena Capital for the 1982 championship.
Taylor continued his career at Arizona State, starting at inside linebacker for the Sun Devils in 1984. He was an off-and-on starter at different positions on ASU’s defensive, ultimately leading the team in tackles-for-loss in the 1987 season when he played on the defensive line. During Taylor’s time at Arizona State, the Sun Devils played in three bowl games, defeating Michigan in the 1987 Rose Bowl.
Trouble followed Taylor, though, and the Los Angeles Times reported he was arrested in December of 1987 and briefly suspended for ASU’s Freedom Bowl game against Air Force. He was later reinstated by coach John Cooper, who was quoted in the LA Times as saying, “Pat Taylor has sacrificed more this year than almost anyone else on our team. He’s been playing with a torn biceps muscle. With all he’s been through, I just didn’t think it would be right to take the privilege of playing in a bowl game away from him.”
Taylor had a couple brief stints in NFL training camps but never played in a regular-season game.
… on Taylor:
Former Great Falls CMR coach Jack Johnson: “Pat, he was just a vicious football player. He was a tough guy that had the size, 6-foot-3, he could run and he loved to play football. He could play. He was a tough guy.”
Former Great Falls CMR teammate Tony Arntson: “I was fortunate enough to play with Pat when I was a sophomore in high school, and everything everyone knows about Pat is true. He was tough and relentless and nasty. He played against you to physically hurt you and to punish you. But the thing people don’t know about Pat is that Pat was an incredibly smart football player. I remember games standing on the sidelines, watching him go through his preparation during the week, and he knew the opponent’s offense better than the opponents knew. We would go through some scout teams, I ran some scout team stuff against him, whatever it was, a formation or whatever, and he would call plays. That’s the thing I really remember about him. I grew up just down the street from him, so I knew his personality and what type of person he was. But he was a smart, smart football player and that’s what always really stood out for me. Definitely, I didn’t get to watch him play much on film, other than from our side of it, but definitely one of the best all-around football players ever. I think he could have played any position on the football field. He was an incredible, incredible athlete and a tremendous football player, obviously.
“I mean, I don’t know that there’s any better (linebacker in Montana history). Again, I was a young kid, but over the years I did go back and watch some of that old film and watch him play, and he had it all. He was a big, long frame. He was actually pretty lean back then, a big linebacker for back then, but he was a 185- or 190-pound kid, but a long frame, very athletic. Like I said, the thing that made him so good was how smart he played and what he did for his teammates around him. As far as linebacker play on that football field, he was as good as any I have seen.”