By Jason Reid and Paul Tenorio
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
One day after coping with the news that safety Sean Taylor was fighting for his life because of a gunshot wound, the Washington Redskins struggled yesterday to deal with the news they feared most -- that their teammate had died early in the morning at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.
Word of Taylor's death spread quickly among the Redskins, and team officials and players recalled fond memories during interviews with a throng of local and national media members at Redskins Park in Ashburn.
But as the Redskins coped, coaches also finalized game plans for Sunday's matchup with the Buffalo Bills, part of what promises to be a hectic nine days for the team. Four days after Sunday's game at FedEx Field, Washington hosts the Chicago Bears in a Thursday night game, and members of the team intend to attend Taylor's funeral in Miami, which could take place early next week.
"We're going one hour at a time here," Coach Joe Gibbs said at a late-afternoon news conference with owner Daniel Snyder at Redskins Park. "So . . . we're all just going to band together with Dan's leadership and everybody here. All of us here will work together, go forward together, and I think each person here probably has to deal with it in his own way."
Snyder and Gibbs said they had no discussions with the league about the Redskins' schedule in the wake of Taylor's death, focusing instead on moving forward on the field while honoring the 24-year-old Pro Bowl safety's memory. "I don't know how we'll deal with it. But what we're going to do is go forward as a football team. We'll make our preparations and get ready to play this weekend," Gibbs said. "And like I said, me personally, I don't know how we'll deal with it except that we're all going to do it together."
The Redskins will wear Taylor's No. 21 on their jerseys and helmets. "I believe 21 will be on every helmet in the league," Snyder said. A moment of silence will be observed before every NFL game this week in honor of Taylor.
As of yesterday, the NFL had no plans to postpone Sunday's game against the Bills or push back the Dec. 6 game with the Bears, league sources said. Players had the day off yesterday and practice resumes today. Before practice, the Redskins will meet as a group for the first time since Taylor died, and "I'm sure there will be a discussion about a myriad of things," left guard Pete Kendall said. "What comes out of that I guess remains to be seen."
The Redskins (5-6) are tied with the Philadelphia Eagles for third place in the NFC East. They have lost three consecutive games and four of five but still are in contention for a wild-card berth. Under the circumstances, Gibbs said he had no expectations about how the Redskins would perform in practice the rest of the week, let alone in their upcoming games.
"For me to answer what the players are going to do individually or how they feel about it, I don't think I can make a guess," Gibbs said.
Some players were at Redskins Park yesterday to receive treatment, watch film and speak with coaches. Team chaplains also were available to counsel players and staff. Some agreed to meet with reporters and discuss their memories of Taylor.
"Sean was a dear friend to all of us," said quarterback Jason Campbell, standing in front of a bank of microphones outside of the training complex's main building. "We're all like a family and it's like we lost a family member. Our hearts and prayers go out to his family. . . . It's a tough situation right now."
Second-year safety Reed Doughty started in the place of Taylor the past two games, after Taylor sprained his right knee in a 33-25 loss to Philadelphia on Nov. 11. The hard-hitting Taylor -- selected with the fifth overall pick in the 2004 draft -- was the anchor of Washington's effective cover-2 defense.
"I stepped in for him the last few games he was injured, and he just offered a lot of words of encouragement," Doughty said. "He always believed in me. It meant a lot."
Doughty said he was encouraged Monday night when he heard Taylor had squeezed a doctor's hand and shown facial expressions, so "to hear the news this morning is still really hard to handle," he said. "Certain things happen in your life and it makes you know that this is just a game. He was a good person and that's what we'll remember."
Kendall, who arrived before the season in a trade with the New York Jets, did not know Taylor well. But Kendall said he was struck by Taylor's kindness to his sons after the team's 16-13 victory over the Miami Dolphins in the season opener.
"We were in the players' parking lot afterwards," Kendall recalled. "I have three young kids, and two boys, big football fans, and they were really impressed with Sean Taylor. Sean actually spent some time with them. He didn't just sign a book and send them on their way, but talked to them. As a father, that made the biggest impact on me."
Taylor had exhibited a newfound maturity since the birth of his 18-month-old daughter, Jackie, the Redskins said.
"There were times here in the building people would say, 'Hey, Sean's here and he's got his baby girl with him,' " Gibbs said. "This morning, I heard people talking about the shopping center where she was playing, and he would be there looking over her. And I saw him . . . mature over the last year and a half, which happens for a lot of young guys."
And that only compounded the Redskins' grief, players said.
"I just wish that everyone had the opportunity to get a chance to know him," Campbell said. "If you just sit down and you talk to Sean one-on-one, he's a special person. He's a great person and he had all the intentions of trying to do the right things.
"If you just look at him from the way that he's changed in the last year, it's just been outstanding to have the opportunity to spend time with him. He will truly be missed by all of us. We'll hold him close to our hearts."