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Taylor: Powerful, played hard, hated to lose

By Allan Imes Editor’s note: Allan Imes was supposed to speak at Merritt Taylor’s funeral but was suffering from kidney stones on the day of the services. This is what he planned to say. I still remember the first time I saw Merritt Taylor. It was August 1954 and I was reporting for a two week football camp coach Otis Weaver had started. Gordon had dropped college level football. Col. C.T.B. ‘Bud’ Harris was hired as president of Gordon Military College and he wanted a football team. Weaver was hired as head coach. Coach Weaver went on a recruiting rampage that drew boys from all over the South to Barnesville. Most were college prospects who took post graduate courses to improve their academic qualification. After a year at Gordon and bringing their academic skills up to meet the requirements of the entrance exam, the players would usually move on to one of the four year colleges or universities. I only lived up the road a little bit in the town of Griffin. All I knew about Barnesville was if you were going to Florida via Barnesville, you’d better not be speeding or a motorcycle cop would get you and show you no mercy. Appealing to the chief of police would do you no good either because he was even tougher than the motorcycle cop. I managed to get into town without incident and headed for the college. I parked in front of this old gym and thought, ‘High schools have better gyms than this.’ I went in and heard some commotion at the far end of the gym down a little staircase. I followed the noise, poked my head in what was the equipment room and saw this impressive looking, blond-headed kid who was about 190 pounds of pure muscle, helping coach Weaver sort out the equipment. Coach Weaver introduced us, I shook his hand, and at that instant Merritt Taylor and I became lifelong friends. Merritt was physically strong. In fact, he was powerful. At that time, he was a senior in high school but he could go shoulder to shoulder with football players two and three years older than him. I remember one day we were having a ‘who could throw the hardest punch’ contest. We’d get down into our football stance and throw the punch from that position, hitting the other fellow on the front of his shoulder. Merritt got down and on cue, threw a punch so hard it sounded like a rifle crack when it hit. Not only that, it left a blue and red fist print on the other guy’s shoulder that stayed there several days. After we witnessed Merritt’s punch, we lost interest in going for a second round of punch throwing. Merritt just kept getting tougher and stronger. The only person I can think of right off hand that was stronger might have been Mountain Greene, who’d just come home from the Navy and was on the Gordon team. Merritt loved the contact football gave him. One day coach Fred Miller took us down to the football field to show us his latest invention. It was about 15×15 feet and maybe three feet tall. The top was covered in chicken wire and he called it the cage. The cage became famous among Gordon players. Coach Miller would start off with one player on one side and an opposing player on the opposite side. They’d meet in the middle on all fours and go at it until he blew the whistle. Then he added going around the cage’s post and meeting again in the middle. After a while he’d add players to the fray and soon there were 12 guys, four on each side, all trying to stay under the cage except for going around the posts. It can be described as a free-for-all. Merritt could hold his own with the best of them and better than most. When we’d end that drill to move on to another, most everybody gave a sigh of relief. Not Merritt. You could hear him say, ‘Aw shoot.’ He wanted more. He loved it. Merritt played hard and hated to lose. In fact, he’d sometimes make up his own rules. In one game, a runner on the opposing team took a handoff on about the 15 yard line and was streaking down the sideline headed for a touchdown. A crowd of players were hot on his heels but couldn’t catch him. Somewhere around the 50 yard line the runner came to an abrupt and crunching halt. Everyone was bewildered, including the referees. Did the runner just trip and fall? Coach Weaver and Merritt knew the answer. Merritt was out of the game for a breather and he saw this guy headed for a touchdown. He ran onto the field, without a helmet on, and tackled the runner. Coach Weaver realized what had happened, pulled a player off the field, threw Merritt a helmet and told him to stay in the game. The referees counted heads which showed each team had 11 players on the field, assumed the runner tripped and signaled for the game to continue. One needs to understand that most of the teams we played were like Gordon. They had players sent there by larger four year colleges to work on academics, gain weight and get stronger. Accordingly, some of the games were not the epitome of good sportsmanship. We were known to get into a few free-for-alls before the game ended and Merritt was always in the middle of the brawl. I can remember him starting a couple of them. One time, at Baylor in Chattanooga, Tenn., it was after the game and the granddaddy of all brawls. We lost, Merritt didn’t like it and he wanted them to know it. It took a long time for that one to fizzle out. I could go on and on with stories about Merritt Taylor but I’ll finish with a story that describes the Merritt most of us remember. I’d just come home from Vietnam. Aliene, my wife and a Barnesville girl who was living on Holmes Street while I was gone, met me at the Atlanta airport. She told me Merritt had been injured on the job with an electric power company and lost a leg. I later found out from some of his fellow co-workers his survival was due solely to a display of incredible strength. Anyway, his mother and father lived across the street so I walked over to see them and try to find out what I could about Merritt. As it turned out, he was there and didn’t look like he was in the mood for visitors but they all graciously welcomed me home and left Merritt and me to ourselves. I tried to talk about anything but him losing a leg. We reminisced and laughed a little. Merritt and some of our other friends had given me one blast of a going away bash so that came up. Finally he asked me if I wanted a Coke. I looked around and didn’t see any one to get it for me so I said, ‘Yes, but I’ll get it.’ He instantly said in a firm voice, ‘Sit down Imes. I lost a leg but I’m not a damn cripple.’ Then he hobbled off to get me the Coke. That is the Merritt Taylor spirit I’ll always remember. His was a Band of Brothers kind of friendship. I’m gonna miss him.

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