They trudged off the field, heads hung low, their cleats clicking on the pavement, until Sean Taylor's best friends on the team stopped to talk.
"I really stay out of the locker room," Clinton Portis said. "My locker [is] right next to his."
One cubicle away from Taylor's, which, out of respect, now features a photo of the deceased player, is that of Santana Moss. "It's just hard, real hard," Moss said, shaking his head.
Two former University of Miami players, going on about another member of the most tightknit and tragically tinged fraternity in all of college football.
This is a U. thing, after all. But not in the way you think.
Taylor wasn't just their college teammate, another player from the most successful division I-A football program in the past quarter-century; he was part of the brotherhood of Miami players who understand, cope and feel more than the rest. By awful circumstance or their own inescapable past, they just do.
Four U. players have been murdered in the past 15 years, including two while they were still in college. That's not perception. That's fact.
On Nov. 7 last year, Miami senior defensive end Bryan Pata was fatally shot in the back of the head outside his apartment in Kendall, Fla. The crime remains unsolved.
Four months earlier, 'Canes defensive back Willie Cooper was shot in his buttocks. Teammate Brandon Meriweather plucked a handgun from his trousers and shot at the gunman.
Make of it what you will, yet from the day, nearly two decades ago, that 2 Live Crew's Luther Campbell started paying players for touchdowns and sensational, bone-jarring hits like the ones Taylor delivered -- from the moment the 'Canes arrived in full camouflage for the 1987 Fiesta Bowl against Joe Pa's homespun kids from Happy Valley -- the stereotypes fed the U.'s image.
Recently, Hurricane players swapped punches with LSU underneath the stadium at the 2005 Peach Bowl. A year ago, helmets were used as weapons in a free-for-all with Florida International, where Taylor's funeral will take place Monday.
It doesn't matter who instigates the brawls anymore; the first person accused is the troublemaker in the back of the class who's been on detention twice already. He must have started it.