Flanked by family and friends of the football players who got their start at Pennsauken High School, local officials dedicated the commemorative signpost Wednesday morning.
By Matt Skoufalos | September 27, 2023
The tradition of football excellence at Pennsauken High School is a storied one that has produced eight NFL players, five Super Bowl winners, two NCAA championship winners, and one Heisman trophy winner.
Perhaps the most unusual detail of that legacy, however, is that five of those eight NFLers grew up alongside one another in the Delair section of the township.
On Wednesday, Camden County unveiled a historical marker celebrating the achievements of “the Pennsauken Five”: brothers Billy and David Griggs and John and Keith Taylor, and their neighbor, Todd McNair.
Officials from the Camden County and Pennsauken governments joined the families and neighbors of the men who got their starts in Delair just outside of Wesley Gaines Park in the Village of Morrisville, the first settlement in the area that eventually became Pennsauken.
Billy Griggs was the first of the group to be drafted, going to the New York Jets in the eighth round of the 1984 NFL draft. His brother David went to New Orleans Saints five years later, in the seventh round of the 1989 draft, which was Billy’s last year in the league.
In between them went John and Keith Taylor; John to the San Francisco 49ers in the third round of the 1986 draft, and Keith to the Indianapolis Colts in the fifth round of the 1988 draft. McNair went to the Kansas City Chiefs in the eighth round of the 1989 draft.
Of the five, John Taylor had the most decorated NFL career, winning three Super Bowls with the 49ers as a wideout and kick returner, and adding two Pro Bowls to his resume as well. His brother Keith played safety in 103 games with three teams over the course of nine years in the NFL.
In five years as a tight end with the Jets, Billy Griggs primarily played a blocking role.
He caught his first and only NFL touchdown in a 35-15 in over the Kansas City Chiefs in the 1986 AFC wild card playoff game.
His brother David’s career — six seasons as a linebacker with the Miami Dolphins and San Diego Chargers — sadly was cut short when he perished in a car crash at 28.
McNair rushed for 800 yards and three touchdowns in eight years with the Chiefs and Houston Oilers, but put up better stats as a pass-catching back, notching 2,435 yards and seven receiving touchdowns on 254 receptions.
On Wednesday, he spoke about how the roots of that career were founded in long afternoons playing basketball on the neighborhood courts, taking on all comers from the surrounding towns.
“We just grew up in town, running around like all the rest of the kids,” McNair said.
“It all happened at the playground,” he said. “Everybody would come here to play.”
None of the group necessarily believed any of them was a lock to become a professional athlete, but after Billy Griggs made it to the University of Virginia, they all started to see a pathway to their dreams materializing before them.
“Once David and I went down to Virginia, we saw how they were working out,” McNair said. “The older we got, the closer we got to it. We [believed we] could do it too.”
After observing the college football workout routine, the younger boys upped their game at home. McNair said they bought some weights and started working out on his patio. After lifting, the group would jog to PHS, climb the fence and run routes, and then run throughout the rest of the industrial back roads back home.
“When it’s happening, you don’t know what’s happening,” McNair said. “By the time we got to the league, it was like we were supposed to be there.”
That work ethic served him well in an oppressive training camp with the Chiefs. Under head coach Marty Schottenheimer, McNair recalled running 21 straight two-a-day practices in full gear. At night, a line of taxis awaited players who couldn’t maintain that pace.
“People were leaving left and right,” he said, but at the end of camp, “you knew whoever was next to you was a dog.”
It might seem unusual for a quintet of NFLers to emerge from the same neighborhood in a single New Jersey town, but McNair said its community culture that reinforced their dream, and kept them all on the right path.
“We had great parents,” he said. “You couldn’t do anything wrong without people saying, ‘Come over here, sit down.’”
Pennsauken Mayor Vince Martinez echoed McNair’s sentiments in his remarks.
“Pennsauken thrives on community spirit, and neighbors surrounding each other and striving for success,” Martinez said. “The journey from playing street football and going to the NFL; their dreams were fueled and supported by family and friends.”
Pennsauken Councilwoman Nikki Roberts, who attended school with the players enshrined on the marker described it as “the celebration of five sincerely good guys.
“Regardless of what side of the ball they were on, this marker shows that hard work and determination makes dreams come true — especially if you’re from Remington Avenue,” Roberts said.
To the five, Robert Fisher-Hughes of the Pennsauken Historical Society remarked, “Your achievements are the pride of the neighborhood, the community, and legend.
“We are helping to keep up the chronicle of our history,” he continued, adding that a sense of local history helps create the identity of a place and builds community.
Speaking on behalf of his father and uncle, both of whom are commemorated on the sign, Billy Griggs, Jr. praised the community in which both were raised.
“It was a great neighborhood,” Griggs, Jr. said. “It still is a great neighborhood.”
Continuing the legacy of their achievements means residents “can show everybody how centered this community is,” he said.
The Pennsauken marker is one in a series of an ongoing project commemorating local history, said Camden County Commissioner Al Dyer.
Others have been dedicated to Steven Spielberg in Haddon Township, and to Walt Whitman and “Jersey” Joe Walcott in Camden City; a fifth is planned to commemorate the former Pennsauken drive-in movie theater, which was the first in the nation.
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