'This Is Our Chance to Show Respect'

John Eubanks
Cornerback John Eubanks takes the field wearing No. 21 on his bandana to honor Sean Taylor, as fans fill the stands wearing the safety's jersey. (Jonathan Newton - The Washington Post)
By Paul Schwartzman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 3, 2007

From her seat high above FedEx Field, the tears started rolling down Carol Spencer's cheeks the moment the Washington Redskins band began the first mournful strains of the hymn "Going Home."

The white-haired, 70-year-old widow typically watches football on television at her Bowie apartment, turning on her "Hail to the Redskins" music box when the team scores a touchdown. But a friend had an extra ticket to yesterday's game, so Spencer made her first visit to FedEx Field, weeping in her end-zone seat as the Redskins memorialized Sean Taylor.

"No one should die that young," she said, clutching the hand towel affixed with the number "21" that the team gave out to salute Taylor. "No one should die that talented. I just felt like I had to be part of something that was honoring this young man."

As a spectacle, professional football is rife with ritual, including the weekly pregame tailgate parties, face-painting and the recounting of past heroes and their glories. Taylor's slaying last week forced the Redskins faithful to add another, more solemn ritual to their Sunday afternoon routine: mourning.

Wearing black armbands, scribbling their despair or leaving flowers at the makeshift shrine outside FedEx Field, fans navigated an incongruous mix of sport and grief.

Their journey was made no simpler by the afternoon's outcome, a maddening loss in the rain that resulted from a penalty against the Redskins and a last-minute field goal by their opponent, the Buffalo Bills.

"You're hoping that a win will put an end to the mourning," Charles Sembly, 57, a postal worker, said as he left the stadium. "The void hasn't been filled."

For many fans, the mere playing of football was a welcome respite from the waves of sadness and outrage they have experienced since Taylor's death.

Pittman Rock, 52, of Fairfax County was among those who hoped to lose himself in the hurly-burly of the game. As he has for the past decade, Rock co-hosted a tailgate party in a FedEx parking lot, serving fried turkey, corn pudding and macaroni and cheese, all of it washed down with Red Stripe and Corona beers.

"I don't want to read about it anymore. I don't want to hear about it. You just want to get over it," he said.

Yet his own friends were reminders that changing the subject is not easy. A miniature cutout of a player wearing Taylor's uniform, complete with a head and helmet, hung on Carrie McCain's chest, her homemade salute to the fallen star.

"I turn trash into treasures," said McCain, a retiree who lives in Northeast. "It's made from love."

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