Former Prairie View & K.C. Chiefs Standout Otis Taylor Is Battling Parkinson’s Disease

By Elizabeth Merrill
Updated: February 10, 2006

KANSAS CITY — The master bedroom is where Otis Taylor spent Super Bowl Sunday. It’s comfortable there, propped up in bed, his sister by his side. It’s easier to doze off and forget. A highlight showed Taylor from Super Bowl IV, younger, stronger, invincible.

“Look at you running down the sideline,” Florence Odell said.

Taylor just looked at his sister and raised an eyebrow. By halftime, he was ready to fall asleep.

Nobody close to Taylor knows exactly when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. His buddy Ollie Gates thinks it was at least four years ago. Taylor’s sister thinks he’s had it longer, though he didn’t tell her until 2½ years ago.

“He didn’t want to burden me,” Florence said. “I was taking care of Mom with Alzheimer’s and had my hands full. I knew something was different. I didn’t know what.”

Quietly, the legendary Chiefs receiver has fought Parkinson’s, out of the spotlight but never alone. A good day is when friends stop by, and Taylor and his sister take a two-hour drive in their truck. Hall of Fame linebacker Bobby Bell calls a lot. When Taylor is sleeping, Bell tells Florence not to wake him.

Parkinson’s disease is a chronic, progressive neurodegenerative movement disorder marked by tremors, slow movement, poor balance and difficulty walking and talking. Florence, a nurse in Houston who moved to Kansas City to care for her brother, said Taylor is “doing pretty good.” He walked around the house Thursday.

In Taylor’s prime, he was one of the most exciting wide receivers of his era, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound dynamo who was bigger, stronger and faster than everyone else at his position. His signature play — the Chiefs’ signature play — came in Super Bowl IV when he plowed through Minnesota’s Earsell Mackbee and ran 46 yards down the sideline for the victory-clinching touchdown.

Now Taylor struggles around the house and gets help from a wheelchair that Gates bought him for Christmas.

“It’s hard to see any of your friends deteriorate,” Gates said. “Especially when you’re the older one. He used to call me Old Man. He looks like an old man now. Most of his strength has been sapped. It really makes you take stock of your own life.”

But Parkinson’s didn’t cause Taylor’s life to stand still. He released a book about his career and life in 2003 and attended a signing on the plaza. Taylor couldn’t write his name and used a stamp.

Florence said Taylor doesn’t struggle much with tremors but tires easily and has trouble with memory, talking and walking.

“He knows what he wants to say,” Florence said, “but it doesn’t come out.”

Parkinson’s afflicts more than 1 million Americans and has stricken actor Michael J. Fox and boxing great Muhammad Ali.

When Ali was in town in February 2000 for Kids Night Out, Taylor was there, sitting alone by a wall, watching him. Did Taylor know then?

“I just want to see the champ,” Taylor said in a 2000 article in The Star. “I just want to catch a glimpse of him.”

Friends just want to catch Taylor, good day and bad. When Bell visits with his booming voice, it brings a smile. Florence tells the guys to call anytime, 24-7.

Otis apparently got tired of the Super Bowl at halftime, when he complained it was too long. He eventually fell asleep. Florence promised to give him the score when he woke up.

“It’s a struggle,” she said. “Especially when you’re used to getting up and golfing and being active with people and all.

“I’m just glad to be here with him.”