He suffered more knockdowns than victories, more heartache than joy, but Troy Taylor never broke stride.
His body was busted from jaw to hand, yet Taylor remained cheerful and optimistic, masking the pain.
Football was equal parts enlightening and humbling for Taylor in his four seasons as Cal’s starting quarterback. The journey started at midseason in 1986, when the Folsom High School co-coach was thrown into the fire as a true freshman by coach Joe Kapp, who was desperate to ward off the circling vultures seeking his job. It ended in 1989, when Taylor bowed out as the Bears’ career passing leader with 8,126 yards. That mark fell Saturday as Jared Goff reached 8,379 yards during a wild 45-44 win at Texas.
Goff’s achievement delighted Taylor, who has followed the junior’s career closely. The one-time golden boy remains a Golden Bears fan.
I think most people look at me and think, ‘That was the passing leader? That guy?’
Troy Taylor, former Cal quarterback
“I think most people look at me and think, ‘That was the passing leader? That guy?’ ” Taylor, 47, said amid laughter. “Jared Goff is fantastic. He’s the real deal. If you’re going to have a record broken, it’s nice to have it broken by a great player.”
“I never put much stock in the record,” Taylor added. “I would’ve traded all of those yards for a Rose Bowl.”
Cal never reached the Rose Bowl during Taylor’s career The Bears last reached that pinnacle in 1959, a void that pains Cal quarterbacks old and older. Kapp led Cal to the ’59 Rose Bowl, and he passionately recruited Taylor 30 seasons ago when Taylor led Cordova to a 14-0 record. They dreamed of Rose Bowl pursuits.
“He had so much charisma, straightforward,” Taylor said. “Kapp once said he’d never drink tequila again unless Cal made it to the Rose Bowl. I don’t know if he lived up to that.”
Taylor did his best to live up to lofty expectations, learning on the fly. He went from scout-team quarterback to starter a week later with the Bears reeling at 1-4. Against USC, Taylor had his jaw broken in two places thanks to a forearm blast under the chin. Sporting a 1-7 record, Kapp was fired three weeks before the season-ending 1986 Big Game against Stanford but finished out the year. With Taylor sidelined and his mouth wired shut, reducing him to a liquid diet, Cal pulled off a 17-11 upset, and bedlam engulfed Strawberry Canyon. Kapp was carried off the field.
The Bears showed promise under coach Bruce Snyder, with Taylor breaking school touchdown passing records held by Craig Morton and Joe Roth, marks that no longer stand. The Bears went 3-6-2 in 1987, 5-5-1 in 1988 and 4-7 in 1989.
Some of the most lively action, Taylor recalled, was away from the field when the Big Game featured brawling mascots.
“The Stanford Tree and Oski the Bear had a real throwdown, the most violent fight I’d ever seen,” Taylor said. “It was during a TV timeout, and I look over and there’s Oski and Tree trying to kill each other. Their heads were crooked. A frat guy once jumped a chain-link fence and tackled Tree. One of the best hits I’ve ever seen. The poor Tree was torn to shreds, branches everywhere.”
Taylor didn’t win a lot of games, but he won the admiration of his teammates and coaches. Three times he was named the Cal team MVP. Taylor said his Cal days taught him to appreciate any measure of triumph. He celebrated the efforts of reserves as much as the stars during Folsom’s 16-0 state championship campaign last fall. Taylor tutored record-setting quarterback Jake Browning, whose Washington Huskies face Goff and Cal on Saturday in Seattle.
“You appreciate things, keep things in perspective,” Taylor said. “It’s all temporary because tomorrow is a new day. For me, I always bounced back, woke up ready to go. The losing at Cal was frustrating. I had only a couple of football goals at Cal – to start and go to the Rose Bowl. It always feels empty that we couldn’t get there, but the friends, teammates and experiences molded me into who I am.”
8,126 Troy Taylor’s career passing yardage at Cal, a record broken by Jared Goff on Saturday
Taylor met his wife, Tracey, well after his Cal days. She didn’t know for months that Taylor had even played football.
“It’s funny because Tracey said she had a prerequisite not to marry anyone really into sports,” Taylor said. “I married up.”
The Taylors have three young children, all regulars at Folsom games. And the kids revel in the creaks and cracks from their father as he starts to feel his age with soreness in his shoulder, neck and lower back. And the jaw.
“The kids hear my jaw crack from when I broke it against USC, and they think it’s hilarious,” Taylor said, still rolling with the punches from his Cal days.