John Rally Gilliam was born in Greenwood, SC in 1945, and attended Brewer High School. He played college football and ran track in Orangeburg, SC at South Carolina State University. In 1967, he was drafted in the second round (52nd overall) to the then NFL expansion franchise New Orleans Saints. Over 11 NFL seasons he would play for the Saints (2 stints, 1967=1968,1977), St. Louis Cardinals (1969-1971), Minnesota Vikings (1972-1975), Atlanta Falcons (1976), and Chicago Bears (1977).
John has the unique distinction of returning the opening kickoff 94 yards in the Saints’ inaugural game in 1967 against the Rams as a rookie. This would be recorded as the first touchdown scored in franchise history. While with the Vikings, he played in two Super Bowls, earning four straight Pro Bowls (1972-1975), and a Second-Team All-Pro (AP) honor in 1973. The Vikings later named him as one of the 50 Greatest Vikings.
During his NFL career, he caught 382 passes for 7,056 yards (18.5 average) and 48 receiving touchdowns. He also had two return touchdowns in his career. After his playing days, he became a distinguished businessman in Atlanta. Fellow SC State standout and SCFHOF inductee (2017) Charlie Brown attributes credit to Gilliam as the one who opened the door for Bulldogs to be drafted in the NFL. John is a 1992 inductee of the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame.