By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
It has been more than 21 years since former University of Maryland basketball star Len Bias died. But Lefty Driesell, who coached Bias at the school, didn't need any reminders of that tragic day, not even one as jarring as yesterday's death of Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor.
"I think about it all the time," Driesell said. "I think about it just about every day. Lenny Bias was a great person. He went to church every Sunday. It wasn't just that he was a great basketball player. He was a great kid, a great young man. This doesn't really make me think about that. I think about Lenny anyway."
Driesell is retired from coaching and saw television reports of Taylor's death at his home in Virginia Beach. To many longtime Washingtonians, the sudden death of an athlete as young, vibrant and seemingly invulnerable as Taylor conjured up memories of the death of Bias on June 19, 1986, from a cocaine overdose in a school dorm less than 48 hours after being selected with the second overall pick in the NBA draft by the Boston Celtics.
"I saw it on the news," Driesell said. "It's just terrible. Any time you see someone young like that die, it's awful. How old was he, 24? That's about the same age as Lenny. He was 22. I'm 75 years old. When I die, it won't be such a terrible thing. To see someone die young like that, with so much life ahead of him, it's really sad. What I think about is, if Sean Taylor hadn't been hurt, he would have been with the team and he would have been playing, and this never would have happened."
In other places, Taylor's death served as a reminder of other tragic events. Taylor is the fourth active NFL player to die this year, the first since the season began. Denver Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams was shot and killed in the early morning hours of Jan. 1 after attending a New Year's party. Damien Nash, a reserve running back also with the Broncos, collapsed and died after playing in a charity basketball game in February in St. Louis. New England Patriots defensive lineman Marquise Hill was found dead in Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans after disappearing while jet-skiing in May. Like Taylor, Williams, Nash and Hill all were 24 years old.
Williams's shooting, which remains unsolved, came hours after the Broncos were eliminated from playoff contention with a loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Jim Saccomano, the Broncos' vice president of public relations, recalled yesterday that he received a 2:30 a.m. phone call informing him of Williams's death.
"It just happens so suddenly," Saccomano said. "The one difference is, Darrent died right away. The Redskins at least had a little bit of time to establish the reality of the situation and tell everyone what could happen."
More than 100 members of the organization traveled to Williams's funeral in Fort Worth. The Broncos had a separate ceremony in Denver for members of the organization unable to accompany the traveling party to Texas, and made certain that grief counselors were available to any player or other team employee who wanted to speak to one.
"The team wants and needs its own grieving process," Saccomano said. "Everyone has a person on their staff who deals with things like that, with things like making sure there are counselors for people to talk to. Anyone in the organization, whether it's a player or a secretary, you have to make sure that there's someone for them to talk to if they want to talk."
Unlike the Redskins, the Broncos didn't have a game to play the following weekend.
"Emotionally, it was a very tough time for everyone in the organization," Saccomano said. "Had we beaten San Francisco, we would have had a playoff game at New England the following weekend. I'll put it this way: Most observers here think it would have been a very difficult thing to get ready for. This is my 33rd year with the team, and I was in broadcasting before that. A newsroom is like a family. A team is like a family. There's a closeness there and it hits everyone really, really hard."
Broncos safety John Lynch said at a charity function in Washington last spring that when the team's players convened for offseason practices after the deaths of Williams and Nash, they leaned on one another and the healing process began.
"You're actually glad to be around everyone again," Lynch said. "It's been on everyone's mind and it feels good to share your thoughts and feelings with the people who are experiencing the same things that you are. You get back to work. You start to get back to your normal routine. But it's a process. It takes time for things to really feel normal again."