By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
When rookie strong safety Chris Horton entered the locker room at Redskins Park for the first time, he was drawn to the only dressing stall covered with plexiglass. As he stood in front of the small area that serves as a daily reminder of late Pro Bowl safety Sean Taylor, Horton quickly realized he was part of a team still suffering from an enormous loss.
"I wasn't here last year, I was at UCLA, but I definitely heard about what happened," Horton said of Taylor's death. "He was one of my favorite players, and you heard stuff about how important he was to the Redskins, but I don't think you really understand what he meant around here unless you're here. His locker was one of the first things I noticed, and now it's something I walk by every day and kind of say, 'Man, if this guy was still here, what could he be doing now?' "
That question is among many the Washington Redskins have pondered since Taylor, who was 24, died last Nov. 27 after he was shot a day earlier during a break-in at his Miami-area home.
Aware of the impact Taylor's death had on the franchise, Coach Jim Zorn, who was not with the Redskins in 2007, addressed the loss of Taylor in a team meeting before last week's 20-17 victory over the Seattle Seahawks. Taylor will be inducted into the team's Ring of Fame in a ceremony before the Redskins play the New York Giants on Sunday at FedEx Field. For the players and coaches who worked closely with Taylor for four seasons, however, a major production is not needed for them to honor his memory, many in the organization said recently.
"You think about him a lot, about the things we did and what we could have done" if Taylor had lived, said safety LaRon Landry, who moved to Taylor's position after his death.
"He knew he could count on me out there, no matter what, and I knew I could count on him. It was just like that with us, so, yeah, I think about it. I mean, you lost a teammate, but you also lost a friend."
The strong bond running back Clinton Portis and wide receiver Santana Moss shared with Taylor predated their time as Redskins teammates. Portis and Taylor were members of the Miami Hurricanes' 2001 national championship team, and Taylor and Moss's younger brother, Sinorice, a New York Giants wide receiver, were teammates at Miami. Third-year linebacker Rocky McIntosh also attended Miami and second-year linebacker H.B. Blades has family ties to the Hurricanes' football program.
When word emerged about the shooting a year ago today, it was Portis who took a leadership role among the players, meeting with reporters and joining a Redskins contingent that traveled to Florida that day aboard team owner Daniel Snyder's private jet. Thrust into the spotlight at a time when he also was grieving, "it was real tough, because it was a role that I really didn't think I was fit for, until I was forced into that role," Portis said. "Then all of a sudden, I realized that I was the closest player on this team to Sean.
"The memories that me and Sean had, even though we wasn't together every day, now when I sit back and see, 'We did a whole lot of stuff,' you know? We had a whole lot of opportunities, and I mean the good times, you always share the good times. Me and Sean had our disagreements and everything else, but you look at it and realize the impact a person can leave on you when you never thought. You look at us going to college together, coming to the NFL, and the pact that we formed over those years, and it's like, 'There was something special there.' "
At Redskins Park, the dressing stalls of Moss, Portis and Taylor are the first three to the left of the main entrance. For days after Taylor's death, Moss and Portis answered reporters' questions about the effect on the team, which was struggling to remain in playoff contention, often in front of the area they shared with Taylor.
"You change in a lot of ways," Moss said. "Different ways you think about stuff, different ways you look at stuff. But you know, everything is changed in your life when something happens like that, something critical like that, especially someone's life. It did a lot of things to a lot of people. I was one of the guys that can say it does make you think a lot differently [about] pretty much everything, with playing, with life decisions, just appreciating the days that you have and appreciating the people that's in them. It changes you and it helps you just see a different perspective of life, you know, outside football.
"Just knowing that we sit here and worry about this guy, and what he [brought] as a football player, but we don't tend to think about who he was as a person to the family that he left behind, and to his kid that he left behind. So that's a lot of things that made me think, and just know that I'm bigger than the guy that y'all see here every day that's suiting up on the [number] 89 jersey. I have two little ones that I have to look after and have other people that mean a lot to me that I care about and wouldn't want to leave them behind like he had to do. So that's something that goes through your mind."
In addition to assuming more responsibility and leadership after Taylor's death, Portis and Moss played key roles in a four-game winning streak at the end of last regular season that resulted in a playoff berth. Last Sunday, the Redskins (7-4) ended a losing streak at two games with the victory over the Seahawks and are among the teams in a crowded mix for one of two NFC wild-card berths. The NFC East-leading Giants (10-1) have won five consecutive games and are considered one of the NFL's top teams.
"We're just trying to go on as a regular work week," fullback Mike Sellers said. "It's not going to change our week of preparation. There's not much we can do about it now, just savor his memory."
With the induction of Taylor, there will be 43 people in the Ring of Fame, which honors those who have made distinguished contributions to the franchise. Former wide receiver Gary Clark was the last to enter on Oct. 7, 2007. Sunday's pregame ceremony is scheduled to include a tribute to Taylor and the presentation of a commemorative plaque to members of his family.
"There's not going to be a heightened level of appreciation all of a sudden, 'Oh, today the day I need to honor Sean.' I honor Sean every day in my everyday living," Portis said. "There's not a day that go by that I don't think about Sean, [that] I don't appreciate Sean, [that] I don't understand the situation that Sean lost his life in."
Staff writers Barry Svrluga and Paul Tenorio contributed to this report.