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Like Mike: The Legend of Trent Taylor's 'Flu Game' in MJ's City

Trent Taylor heeded a quick warning before meeting with reporters on Wednesday.

"I'm still kind of sick so y'all might want to watch out," Taylor said through an apparent stuffy nose.

He was sort of kidding but still mostly serious.

The San Francisco 49ers starting slot receiver had just polished off a bowl of chicken noodle soup at his locker. Taylor's diet remains fairly rudimentary as he's just three days removed from a crippling stomach bug. Despite the illness, Taylor went on to post six receptions for 92 yards in Sunday's win against the Chicago Bears. It was easily the rookie's best performance in 2017.

Taylor went to bed on Saturday night feeling fine before things took a grotesque turn for the worst. He woke up around 1:30 a.m. and started puking. Taylor fell back asleep before Wave 2 had him sprinting for the bathroom again at 4:00 a.m. He then spent several sleepless hours staring at the ceiling, wondering how he was going to make it through the 49ers road game at Soldier Field.

"Regardless of what was happening, I was definitely going to give it a shot," Taylor said. "I knew I was going to be able to play. I wanted to win that game, and I wanted to be out there with my teammates. I wasn't going to let that hold me back."

That was easier said than done.

San Francisco's medical staff infused Taylor with three IV bags, containing a mixture of various vitamins and sugars. That helped marginally, but there was no denying the reality: Trent Taylor had the flu.

A few coaches made a quick cross-sport connection to give their ailing wideout some encouragement. One of Michael Jordan's fabled performances came when "MJ" was severely under the weather. To set the scene, the Chicago Bulls were playing in the 1997 NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz. The series was tied 2-2, and Jordan caught some sort of virus before Game 5. And yet, Jordan propelled the Bulls to a win in a 38-point heroic effort.

Sure, Week 13 of an NFL season for a 1-10 football team doesn't quite match the stakes of an NBA Finals, but those details were irrelevant. This was still Taylor's chance to have his own "flu game".

"The coaches were mentioning (Jordan) before the game," Taylor said. "It was the standard for me to have a good game at that point."

No pressure, right?

Taylor delivered in a big way. His six receptions and 92 yards were both career-highs. Until Sunday, the rookie hadn't even reached 50 yards in a game this season. What's more impressive is that Taylor caught all six of his targets, five of which coming on crucial third downs.

Adrenaline got him through each play, but Taylor still battled exhaustion and full-body fatigue on his way back to the huddle. In between series, he'd find a spot on the sideline and desperately try to find his Zen.

"I was just trying to stay still and take deep breaths," Taylor said. "I tried to stay as calm as possible and not let my stomach start to turn. It was all about getting my breath back and preparing for the next series.

"When the next snap came, it was full-go again."

Taylor's marquee moment came on 3rd-and-8 in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. Taylor, who thrives in 1-on-1 matchups, beat his man on a deep in-cut and was hit in stride by Jimmy Garoppolo. The 33-yard catch-and-run moved the 49ers offense into field goal range and ultimately set up Robbie Gould's game-winner.

Unfortunately, there would be no solace for Taylor on the plane ride home. He described the flight as "the longest of his life" as he was unable to find a wink of sleep. The good news is that the stomach bug has passed, but the bad news is that it's evolved into a gnarly head cold.

Even so, the dramatic 15-14 win marked San Francisco's second win of the season and provided Taylor with a story he'll get to share with his future grandkids.

For one afternoon, in Jordan's city no less, the 5-foot-8, 181-pound rookie got to be “Like Mike”.

"It was all worth it," Taylor said.

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