By Jason Reid and Paul Tenorio
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Washington Redskins coaches and players spent an anguished day yesterday waiting to learn whether safety Sean Taylor would survive the gunshot wound he suffered at his Miami home.
The team suspended its normal day-after-a-game routine, and most players quietly headed home after a midday meeting with Coach Joe Gibbs and team chaplain Brett Fuller. "It's one of those things that happens in your family and your heart breaks," Gibbs said. "It's a tragic thing that took place. It kind of takes your breath away."
Gregg Williams, the assistant head coach-defense, called it "a pretty long, difficult day for all of us." He fought back tears as he talked about his relationship with Taylor, 24, who remained in critical condition at a Miami hospital.
"I think I've been documented many, many times on how I feel about him personally. My admiration for him and the closeness that he and I have," said Williams, who has publicly supported Taylor during his legal and on-field troubles.
The Redskins (5-6) have lost three consecutive games and dropped four of their last five, but football was the least of their concerns on the day after a wrenching 19-13 loss to Tampa Bay.
"I know I wouldn't do a very good job of trying to explain to y'all how we feel," Gibbs told reporters. "I know all of our fans out there are praying. If I tried to say anything further, to describe how everyone around here feels, I don't think I could do a very good job of it. All of us are emotional right now."
Said Williams: "Most people came into work today thinking about how to get over a tough loss, a real hard-fought loss down in Tampa, but things like this put things into perspective in a hurry. I haven't had much sleep, and as a father, as a coach, as anybody, you don't like getting those very, very early morning calls with news like that.
"Coach Gibbs spoke very well on how we as an organization feel about Sean. . . . Any of the guys I get to coach and be around, I've always thought of them as one of mine. And obviously with him being the first draft choice that I was involved with bringing here, he's always been even a little bit more closer in my heart on that."
As they waited for updates on Taylor's condition, teammates stressed that Taylor's public persona does not match the teammate they know. They said he is a different person from the young player who seemed to routinely get into trouble.
"Since coming here and meeting Sean back in April, he has embraced me," middle linebacker London Fletcher said. "We have had some conversations about football and about things in life. From the Sean I know, I see a player and a person who has grown so much. You have heard things about Sean, being standoffish, but he hadn't been like that with me at all."
Before flying to Miami with a team contingent that included team owner Daniel Snyder and vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato, running back Clinton Portis reflected on how insignificant all of that controversy seemed at Redskins Park yesterday.
"You think back to times and how much he took for everything, every missing camp, missing this, not being around for this," said Portis, also Taylor's teammate at the University of Miami. "You come to the realization all that means nothing now. He's fighting for his life."
Gibbs said he was unaware that Taylor was in Miami until he received a phone call at about 6:30 a.m. yesterday from a team security official who "said Dan [Snyder] wanted to talk to me," Gibbs said. "I was afraid. Anytime I get a phone call that early at the house, for me I have a real concern. It's happened to me before. It's always scary."
Gibbs said that, as is the case with many injured players, Taylor, who sprained his knee in a 33-25 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 11 and has missed two games, was excused from attending Sunday's game at Tampa Bay. There were concerns about his knee swelling or getting sore on the flight.
Taylor attended meetings and a walkthrough at Redskins Park on Saturday, and was essentially off until yesterday morning, when the players usually report for meetings and to review film of the previous game.
A week ago, Taylor remained in Northern Virginia, receiving treatment, while the Redskins traveled to Dallas, Gibbs said. However, that Monday morning, Nov. 19, Taylor phoned Gibbs at his office in Redskins Park to tell him his home in Florida had been burglarized and to ask permission to be excused from meetings. Gibbs obliged and when Taylor returned that week, "I thought everything was fine," Gibbs said.
Gibbs did not know if Taylor returned to Florida because of specific concerns with his family. "Our policy ever since I've been here has always been that the medical team tells us what's best for the player," Gibbs said. "And in general, most of the time, what's happened is players are getting treatment and if that's best for them they always stay here."
It has been a difficult year for the Redskins' organization. In January, Gibbs revealed that his grandson, Taylor, 2 at the time, has leukemia. Former linebacker Kevin Mitchell, a much-liked player who still lived in the Ashburn area, died of a cardiac arrest at age 36 in April. In June, Ann Litt, 53, the team nutritionist, suffered a ruptured bowel and also died suddenly.
Before Gibbs and Williams spoke yesterday, players one after another stepped in front of microphones, saying they were praying for good news, while additional media members joined reporters who usually cover the team and TV satellite trucks moved into position in the complex parking lot.
"You never want to enter a team meeting, you never think about entering a team meeting as a football team, addressing an issue that is way bigger than this game of football," safety Pierson Prioleau said. "Just as a team right now, as an organization, this is bigger than football. . . . This is not just a member of the Washington Redskins, but we're talking about a dad, a brother, a friend of ours. And that's where we're at with this right now. We're just . . . our prayers go out directly to Sean and his family. That's where we're at as a football team right now."
Staff writer Jason La Canfora contributed to this report.