When I started watching The B1G Story: George Taliaferro, I knew it was going to be incredible and inspiring — partially because of the way it opened, with an original leather football helmet and the field of the Indiana University football stadium coupled with the distinctive, resonant voice of the subject beginning to tell his story. And partially because I already knew parts of this story already, after having been told it in chunks as I grew up. The film focuses on George Taliaferro the trailblazer, the football player, the son, the husband, the communicator, and the father. I always knew him as Grandpa George, though.
He entered my life when I was only a few months old and I have so many memories growing up of both him and my Grandma Vi. One of the earliest was him surprising me by picking me up from kindergarten, when my own mom was in her third trimester with my brother, with a smile on his face. His voice then was just as distinct as ever, as he joked and played around with me on the drive to my house. I remember his stories, dinners at the Taliaferro house, and endless sugar cookies. Plenty of the memories are captured in photos my family still has today of us in our childhood, having fun and laughing up a storm.
A person is an amalgam of so many different parts and experiences, it’s hard to capture them in their entirety even in a half dozen pictures or stories told by those that loved them. This documentary, however, does a commendable job showing everything that made him such a singular person. During the course of the doc we see his strength of character, his bravery, his charisma, his ingenuity, and in turn his humility as well. From tragic losses in his college years to frustrating career prospects after his retirement from football, we see the circumstances of his life that would seem insurmountable to others, circumstances that molded him, that became part of his life story but didn’t break him.
His professional career was a defining one; his talent was undeniable and his primacy on the field was unmistakable. In old footage of games we see his dynamism and his agility as he makes touchdown after touchdown on the field. Knocking down barriers with his talent, he had an impact on IU and Bloomington and its desegregation. He showed his bravery by speaking up about the racism he faced on campus and even going to Herman B Wells, the president of the university at the time, in order to effect more change. Some of the places he names that were segregated or whites-only in his time period are still landmarks of downtown today; he helped open them up to all students of IU.
After retiring from football he found a new path for himself. He left the field but not the sport as he began to mentor and advise student athletes on their educational and personal life choices once he returned to IU’s campus in 1972. He offered guidance to those who found themselves overwhelmed and his table was always welcome to all. As past visitors recounted their experiences talking and listening to his stories and his counsel, it reminded me of my own experiences sitting at that same table. One of my last dinners with him he asked me about my future, and as a teenager with big dreams I recounted all of my plans and all of my wishes. He listened, never questioning any of it, and said before we left that he hoped to see me accomplish everything I’d told him. I imagine this was similar to some of the support he gave so many generations of athletes that found themselves at dinners with him. He had such an unwavering belief in you to make your life your own.
When I attended IU as an undergraduate student I was in Franklin Hall preparing to leave the editing bay, chatting with some acquaintances, when another student started talking about a class he was taking with an emphasis on sports history. He started telling me about the career of George Taliaferro, talking about his time here at IU and his professional career. He noticed my smile and asked if I’d heard of him, and was shocked when I told him that I knew him well. He told me his freshman year at IU he’d actually ran into him by chance and had a moment to speak to him. It was a short interaction but it clearly had an impression. It seems that his warmth had touched this student even in only such a brief amount of time. It made me happy to know that his legacy lived on, that people still remembered him, were learning who he was on this campus, at this university that he gave so much of himself to.
I know the story behind nearly every statue on IU’s campus; each person has such an interesting tie to the university. Each has had an impact on making IU what it is today. I’m glad that the lives of these people and their influence lives on through the statues and I’m glad my Grandpa George has his own statue too now, a statue to remind people of who he was, his generosity, and his ability to always pay-it-forward, a philosophy that will forever live on in all of the lives he touched and changed.
The B1G Story: George Taliaferro will be screened at IU Cinema tomorrow, April 20, as a private, invite-only event for the Taliaferro family, film cast and crew, and the Big Ten Network. However, we’ve reserved a select number of tickets available for IU Cinema patrons, priced at $40.00. This IU Day, show your support for George’s accomplishments, legacy, and IU Cinema by purchasing a ticket for this once-in-a-lifetime event!
Can’t make our private screening? Don’t worry! You can check out a free screening of this film on April 20 at IU’s Memorial Stadium at 7:30 pm.
Noni Ford is a freelance writer based in the Midwest and a graduate of the Indiana University Media School. She’s worked in voice coordination, independent film, and literary management, and primarily writes film criticism and short stories.