By Amy Shipley and Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
MIAMI, Dec. 3 -- The entire Washington Redskins organization and more than two dozen NFL players and officials joined thousands of other mourners to pay their final respects to slain safety Sean Taylor on Monday in an emotional three-hour funeral service at a collegiate basketball arena.
Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and many of Taylor's NFL, college and high school teammates were among the 18 speakers who offered condolences or personal recollections, many raw and tearful, others funny and touching, in front of about 3,000 mourners on the Florida International University campus.
Many reminisced about Taylor's smile, his devotion to his family, girlfriend and young daughter, and his uncommon athletic feats on the field.
"There are not enough adjectives in the dictionary to describe how special he was," said Michael Outar, an uncle of Taylor's.
"Sean, I love you as my brother, and I love you as my friend," former Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington said, his voice cracking. "Today my heart is broken."
The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson also spoke, urging mourners to rise to their feet and shout and applaud for Taylor, then used his death to call for tougher gun control laws. "Sleep on, sweet prince," Jackson said. "You still challenge us to win the big game, so let's go to a higher ground and choose life over death."
Taylor, 24, died last Tuesday after being shot the previous morning in his Miami home by an intruder in a bungled burglary attempt. Four men from Fort Myers, Fla., were arrested Friday and charged with felony murder and armed robbery.
Bouquets draped Taylor's closed casket and about two dozen large flower arrangements flanked the elevated stage behind it. More than 100 members of the Redskins' front office and team occupied a large portion of white folding chairs that provided the floor seating. Black drapery covered the arena walls. The overflow crowd and media sat in bleachers above the floor and stage.
Taylor's 18-month-old daughter, Jackie, was wheeled into the service asleep in a stroller. When she awoke, she frolicked among the flowers surrounding her father's casket, played with her aunt's dark sunglasses and scampered about in a burgundy dress.
After the service, Taylor's body was taken to a cemetery for a private burial near his boyhood home in the southern part of Miami-Dade County. Before Taylor's casket was wheeled to a waiting hearse, team owner Daniel Snyder and many players approached Taylor's family and friends to offer hugs and condolences.
At one point during the service, when the Redskins were acknowledged by Alphonso Jackson III, the presiding pastor, Taylor's father, Pedro Taylor, jumped to his feet and led a standing ovation.
Snyder was supposed to be one of the pallbearers along with actor Andy Garcia, who is an uncle to Taylor's girlfriend, Jackie Garcia; Rene Garcia, Jackie's father; Ed Hill, an uncle to Taylor; and Emory Williams, a cousin. However, while the family was mingling after the ceremony, funeral directors pushed the casket out.
Two large video screens that hung from the arena rafters showed highlights from Taylor's career before the service and a video presentation midway through. Taylor's family and closest friends craned their necks to see the elevated screens. The last clip showed the words "We will miss you Sean" on the screen over an image of Taylor diving into the end zone with the ball.
Pedro Taylor, the police chief of nearby Florida City, and Taylor's mother, Donna Junor, and their families occupied a large section to the right of Taylor's casket. Jackie Garcia and her family sat to the left.
Garcia, 24, was often comforted by her sister Carolina, 28, who also spoke on her behalf.
Carolina Garcia said through tears that Taylor was her sister's "entire world. She believed in him. She knew the man he really was, and she stood by him to his last breath. . . . She loved him from the moment she laid eyes on him."
She added to laughter that that was also the day Taylor went home to his stepmother, Josie Taylor, and announced that "he needed to learn Spanish." The two met during their high school days at Gulliver Preparatory School in a Miami suburb.
Taylor's half-sister Jazmin choked back sobs as she spoke, calling Taylor "the best big brother anybody could have."
"I want to see his smile one more time," she said. "I'm waiting to see you again, but I know you're home, and I'm wishing you were never gone."
Also in attendance was another of Taylor's half-sisters, Sasha Johnson, who had been dating a relative of one of the four men accused in Taylor's killing. She did not speak at the service.
Redskins running back Clinton Portis recalled how Taylor would make him laugh by bringing up the strangest things, such as whether he had watched "The Flintstones" the night before. Taylor's high school and Miami teammate Buck Ortega remembered a night in high school when he was in Taylor's car past his curfew. His angry father called to let him know he had better get home. Taylor, he said, dropped him off a block from his house.
He also recalled Taylor's athletic ability.
"These kids would come up at him, standing straight up, and he would hurdle them," Ortega said. "He would do it three or four times a game."
Among those attending were 28 NFL players -- including Devin Hester (Chicago Bears); Jeremy Shockey and Sinorice Moss (New York Giants); Reggie Wayne (Indianapolis Colts); Edgerrin James (Arizona Cardinals); and Andre Johnson (Houston Texans) -- who played football at the University of Miami, Taylor's alma mater, and 13 other former Miami players. Current Miami coach Randy Shannon was among the speakers, and former coaches Butch Davis and Larry Coker were there.
Gibbs said he had imagined God watching Taylor on the field and marveling, "Man, I made a great football player." Said Portis: "I don't fear much, but if I was on an opposing team, I might have had a fear and that would be number 21, Sean Taylor.
Several speakers remarked that Taylor underwent a change after the birth of his daughter.
"Sean was at peace in his life," Portis said. "It showed in everything he did. He was always smiling in the locker room. He came to work with the right attitude."
Florida City Mayor Otis Wallace chastised those who had jumped to the conclusion that Taylor had done something that made him a target.
"For those who took the liberty of restlessly speculating that this young man's death was caused by the way he lived, I would like to say that they should be ashamed," he said to a standing ovation.
Said David Peay Sr., Taylor's home pastor from the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Perrine: "Sean was making the right decisions. He gave his life making the right decisions."