Death Hits Redskins Hard
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Sean Taylor, the hard-hitting, 24-year-old safety of the Washington Redskins who died of a gunshot wound yesterday in Miami, was a mercurial introvert. Accepted and respected by teammates, adored by fans for his aggressive play, Taylor was well known to few outside his family.
The day after he was shot by an intruder at his home in Palmetto Bay, Fla., details of his slaying emerged from Miami investigators and from Taylor's family and associates. But understanding the Pro Bowl player and former University of Miami star has continued to prove elusive.
In the past two days, teammates and coaches stressed how much Taylor had matured since the birth of his daughter 18 months ago. Taylor had been dating Jackie Garcia, the niece of actor Andy Garcia, since they had both attended Gulliver Preparatory Academy in Pinecrest, Fla. Jackie gave birth to a daughter the couple also named Jackie in May 2006. Although Taylor and Garcia were not engaged, they had discussed getting married at the end of this season and Taylor's teammates had noticed a softer, gentler side to him.
But while he had opened himself up to many of his teammates, he was truly close to only two of them, running back Clinton Portis and wide receiver Santana Moss, who, like Taylor, attended Miami. Nonetheless, Taylor had been treated like the troubled little brother who was welcomed into the family irrespective of his past. His teammates seemed to understand whatever problems he had experienced, Taylor's loyalties were first to family and second to the Redskins.
He helped forge the bond between team owner Daniel Snyder and Coach Joe Gibbs; plucked No. 5 in the 2004 draft, Taylor was the first player the Snyder-Gibbs team chose after Gibbs returned to coaching in January 2004. If Gibbs's three Super Bowls with Washington before his 12-year coaching retirement represented renewed hope for the franchise on the sideline, Taylor represented that hope on the field.
He was young, fast and tackled opponents with malice and fury. Within the first few months of his rookie year, teammate LaVar Arrington, then the face of the franchise, christened Taylor "the Grim Reaper." He was also called "Meast," which was crudely taken from the notion that Taylor was half-man, half-beast.
Taylor's violent hits and collisions became part of his lore. During last February's Pro Bowl in Honolulu, Taylor crushed Buffalo Bills punter Brian Moorman during a fake punt, keeping him from the first-down marker. Replayed endlessly on YouTube, like many of Taylor's forceful hits, his play during a meaningless exhibition game exemplified his career: even when it didn't count, Taylor lowered his shoulder and delivered pain.
"For me personally, I think I can honestly say this: Sean felt like God made him to play football," an emotional Gibbs said. Gibbs remembered "freezing, cold and muddy" practice days in which few players wanted to be out there more than Taylor.
"I can remember Sean out there flying around, throwing his body around, leaving his feet, going after things," he said. "He was one of those guys that he felt like this was where he belonged."
Outside the team's training facilities, more than 200 fans paid their respects in front of his No. 21, painted in large, white letters, outlined in gold, on a grassy field a few hundred yards from where he practiced.
Though he rarely opened himself up publicly and was easily one of the NFL's least-known players with such star status, Taylor's reclusiveness played right into the cult worship that began to grow with each violent tackle. It almost contributed to the mystique, that of the young, misunderstood man who put all his angst into his profession.
Before the advent of the Internet, black-market videos featuring hockey's most hideous fights used to be exchanged by avid collectors. Taylor's most vicious and punishing hits became a staple of the Internet era. A quick search of his name on YouTube yesterday evening brought up 227 matches, with one video alone, entitled "Sean Taylor Hits," receiving 260,675 views.