By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 29, 2007
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y., Nov. 28 -- Buffalo Bills wide receiver Josh Reed said he could hardly sleep Tuesday night, so distraught was he about the shooting death of Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor. Safety George Wilson said Taylor's death was the last thing he thought about Tuesday night and the first thing that entered his mind Wednesday morning. "I don't think there was a minute that I didn't think about it," he said.
When Bills Coach Dick Jauron addressed his team a few hours after Wilson awoke, players said he spoke passionately and philosophically about Taylor's death and its implications. "Trying to shine bright from our small corner of the earth" was how special teams star Coy Wire summarized Jauron's message. Punter Brian Moorman said he had never been to a team meeting that quiet and solemn.
Jauron said he would have delivered such a talk regardless of the calendar, which dictates that his players will travel to Washington this weekend for what promises to be one of the most psychologically charged games of their lives.
"I would be pretty certain that every team in the National Football League would address that incident this morning," he said. "It's a tragedy, and it touches us. . . . It affects everybody. It affects everybody in our business."
Still, it was hard to ignore the ways this franchise has been especially touched. Sunday's game will be an emotional caldron for both teams, from the pregame moment of silence to the prayers and black ribbons planned by Redskins fans. The Bills' roster includes former Redskins Derrick Dockery, Robert Royal and Jerametrius Butler, as well as wide receiver Roscoe Parrish, a teammate and friend of Taylor's at the University of Miami. And, of course, the Bills have been through a tragedy of their own this season, after tight end Kevin Everett was seriously injured in a season-opening loss to the Denver Broncos.
"If anyone in the NFL can have some sort of inkling of what they're going through, it would be us, but it's completely different," said Wire, one of Buffalo's captains. "We always had the hope that Kevin would be all right. This is completely different. Sean Taylor is gone. I can only imagine what they're going through as an organization, what his family is having to experience right now. I don't know how they're going to be able to play on Sunday. It's beyond me."
Everett has made significant progress from a spinal-cord injury that was thought to be life-threatening. He is recuperating at his home in Houston and has regained limited use of his legs after an initial prognosis that he would never walk again.
His teammates said they got through the tragedy by never trying to block it out or move on. They designed T-shirts and hats in his honor and sold them to raise money for spinal-cord research; some teammates still wear the shirts -- bearing a team picture and Everett's name and number -- around the locker room. They taped regular video messages for the third-year tight end, who, like Taylor, attended the University of Miami. They called him, visited him in the hospital and still pray for him before and after every game.
"The coaching staff did a great job of not acting like it didn't happen," running back Fred Jackson said. "We faced it. I think that was probably the best thing we could have done, not trying to put it behind us, just trying to move forward while keeping it in mind."
Tight end Ryan Neufeld agreed: "We're constantly thinking about him. It's going to be there through the whole season; there's going to be remnants of what happened."
Players and coaches said they relied upon one another in the initial days, when Everett's future was still very much unknown. Some said the injury made them more introspective: "Realizing how precious the present moment is, making sure I'm not taking anything for granted, teaching each and every day like a gift," as Wire put it.
Linebacker Angelo Crowell said it took him three weeks to be able to throw himself fully into on-field collisions, and the team lost its next two games. But others said they had no trouble returning to the sport, because they thought that is what Everett would have wanted. Several players said that they have drawn inspiration from his recovery, and that the incident increased their team's locker room bond.
"I won't speak for anybody else; personally, I felt like my son was laying in the hospital and yet I had a job to do, and I had obligations to other people," said Charlie Coiner, Everett's position coach. "It took me a long time, not to get back to work, but it took me awhile to get over the hurt, because I was hurting."
But as the Bills said again and again on Wednesday, their pain couldn't compare with what their upcoming opponents are facing.
"It's really a very, very different story," Jauron said. "It's a terrible tragedy. There's just not a whole lot else to say about it. It just leaves you almost speechless."
Teammates said Parrish, who had been telling stories about Taylor last weekend, was in rough shape; he was excused from Wednesday's practice because of illness.
Dockery spent Tuesday speaking with a host of his former Redskins teammates. "When it hits close to home, man, it hurts, it hurts," he said. "You're not just going to be able to get over it in one day, in one week or month. It's going to be with us for a long time."
Players said Jauron and Paul Lancaster, the team's director of player programs, offered counseling at Wednesday's team meeting and reminded them there are more important things than football. Wilson said that the incident made some players consider whether they should buy firearms or change the routes they take driving home, and that Taylor's death remained fixed in his mind.
"It's hard to not think about it, it's hard not to allow it to affect you," he said. "You turn on the local news you see it, you turn on ESPN you see it, you turn on CNN and Headline News you see it. You couldn't get away from it. At least now we're at work, able to go to meetings and go to practices to take our minds off it temporarily. But I'm pretty sure all the thoughts and concerns and prayers will come right back as soon as I get home."
And yet, at the same time, the Bills were preparing for a game between two 5-6 teams still alive for playoff berths. They faced questions about rookie quarterback Trent Edwards, who will make his fifth start, and about their injury-plagued backfield and their two consecutive losses. Dockery said that he expects to shed tears during the pregame moment of silence, but that he would be ready once the ceremony ended.
"We're all professionals," he said. "For that time and that moment, you have to try to focus on playing that game."
Jauron agreed, saying that he was not worried about his players making the transition from an emotional pregame scene into a typical afternoon of athletic competition.
"They all are pros, on both sides of the ball," he said. "This is what they do. Let's face it, this is what Sean Taylor loved to do. And you could see it on tape. He loved to play this game. They've all chosen this as their profession. I think it'll be a highly competitive game. I think it'll be a tough game. I don't think that will be an issue at all."