By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 1, 2008
Pedro Taylor made his way off the slippery turf at FedEx Field, the grass at the 50-yard line painted with a massive 21, the jersey number of his late son, Sean. The Washington Redskins' game against the New York Giants had not yet begun yesterday, and everywhere Pedro Taylor turned there stood a well-wisher, someone with a hug, someone else with a handshake. As he ducked into a tunnel, finally out of a driving rain, he looked up at some fans who had just watched him stride to a microphone and address a stadium about his son, who had died from a gunshot wound one year and three days earlier.
"Thank you!" Taylor yelled to the fans. "God bless you! Thank you!"
"It's emotional," Taylor said. "To come back here, where Sean played, it's a big day, an honor and a privilege. They share our loss, everybody here."
The anniversary of a death is something of a macabre remembrance, so the emotions leading up to Washington's 23-7 loss to the Giants were difficult to quantify. For the Redskins, the 15-minute ceremony honoring Sean Taylor was, in some ways, easy to compartmentalize, particularly for those teammates who have, in one manner or another, wrestled with his death every day. Running back Clinton Portis still wears a T-shirt with "21" on it under his jersey. Wide receiver Santana Moss still honors Taylor by tracing "21" with his right hand after a catch.
"We done dealt with that moment last year, before," said Moss, one of Taylor's closest friends on the team. "You can't go back in time."
The ceremony, in which Taylor was inducted into the Redskins' Ring of Fame, was for Pedro Taylor and those who joined him on the field as a cold rain fell. There was Donna Junor, Sean Taylor's mother. Former coach Joe Gibbs made his first appearance at FedEx Field since he retired in January. Taylor's 2-year-old daughter Jackie, wearing a pink hat and plaid jacket, watched curiously from the arms of her mother, Jackie Garcia, as a video of her father appeared on screens at opposite ends of the stadium. Taylor in high school, then at the University of Miami, and finally with the Redskins, all to the tune of T.I.'s "Big Things Poppin'."
Pedro Taylor's head bopped to the music, and the family watched the scene intensely. When it was over, longtime Washington sportscaster George Michael, who served as emcee, turned the microphone over to Taylor. He thanked Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. And he turned his attention to the fans, thanking them for "making the stadium rock," urging them to do it again.
"Right now, Sean is watching in heaven," Taylor told the crowd.
"It was easy," he said afterward. "It was heartfelt."
As were many of the moments during the ceremony. Snyder, wearing a black baseball cap with "21" on the front, teared up. He hugged Drew Rosenhaus, Sean Taylor's agent, who called his former client "one in a million." Gibbs, wearing a "21" lapel pin, made it clear he returned for one reason.
"I still have Sean on my prayer list," Gibbs said. "That is one of the more emotional things that any of us with the Redskins ever lived through. We appreciate him. I told his dad, 'I still think of him all the time.' "
Finally, the attention turned toward the tunnel through which the Redskins enter the field. The public address announcer bellowed, "Starting at free safety, for your Washington Redskins: Sean Taylor!"
There was Portis, Taylor's teammate at Miami, perhaps his closest friend on the Redskins. He sprinted from the opening onto the field, carrying a flag bearing the number 21. Portis said Coach Jim Zorn had asked him to perform the task earlier in the week, and he took it on zealously, running to midfield, right to Taylor's number.
"Beautiful," Pedro Taylor said.
Zorn, who never coached Sean Taylor, nonetheless watched his family, particularly Garcia, his girlfriend and the mother of his daughter.
"She's holding it together pretty good," Zorn said. "When we introduced . . . Sean Taylor, and Clinton ran out with the '21' flag, that was too much for her. We weren't trying to tug on heartstrings or anything like that, but I thought that there was a lot of reflection there with our whole group."
Most players said the ceremony only amplified thoughts they have daily. "On days like this, I think reality sets in," cornerback Fred Smoot said. Yesterday's reality involved playing yet another game without their former star safety, but doing so on a field adorned with his No. 21.
"I noticed that during the game," Portis said. "I think this is a classy organization. That's the way you're supposed to pay tribute to a fallen soldier."