Remembering Sean Taylor

It’s been five years now, but it seems like a lifetime since Sean Taylor took the field for the Redskins. Five years have gone by, but my memories of him remain as vivid as when he was still with us.

There are so many great plays and bone-crushing hits by Sean that are worth remembering, but one stands above the rest for me. After defeating the Redskins 27-10 in Dallas earlier in the 2006 season, “America’s Team” lined up for a game-winning field goal with six seconds left at FedEx Field Nov. 5, 2006. After a miraculous block by the Redskins’ Troy Vincent, it appeared that the game would head to overtime.

Sean had other ideas.

Taylor scooped up the ball and returned it 30 yards, weaving his way through various Cowboy tackle attempts and drawing a facemask by Kyle Kosier that added an extra 15 yards to the end of the return and gave the Redskins one untimed down. After having missed the potential game-winning field goal with 31 seconds left, Nick Novak’s kick with no time left was money.

Redskins 22, Cowboys 19.

It wasn’t a classic Sean hit that made you cringe, but it was the epitome of the type of player he was — tough, unyielding, and a born playmaker.

I remember turning on ESPN before school one Monday morning in late November 2007. When I saw the breaking news that Sean Taylor had been shot and airlifted to the hospital, I refused to believe that I was awake — it had to be a horrible dream.

At that point nobody cared about Sean coming back to play football. It was about a father, a son, a teammate and a friend — who meant so much to the city of Washington — fighting for his life. From watching Taylor play on the field, I couldn’t imagine there was anything that he couldn’t do. So we prayed for a miracle.

On the morning of Nov. 27, five years ago Tuesday, Sean passed. He was a man who rarely spoke to the media and who kept a close inner circle, but you could see the impact he had on the city from the immediate outpouring of support from D.C.-area residents. He was the one player you could always count on to play until the final whistle, regardless of the score. He made more big plays in his three and a half years in the league than most guys make in their entire careers. Off the field he may have been reserved. But on the field Sean was larger than life — and Redskins fans admired him for it.

Five days after his death, my dad and I were at FedEx Field on a gray December Sunday to watch the Redskins take on the Bills. I was wearing my burgundy Sean Taylor jersey — No. 36, from his rookie season — that I had gotten for Christmas in 2004. It was my first football jersey ever, and every time I put that jersey on I was proud to be a Redskins fan. It didn’t matter how bad the team was. Sean’s tenacious play always gave me a reason to be proud.

It didn’t seem right for the Redskins to play football without Sean. The short tribute video brought many in the stadium to tears and ended with Sean soaring into the endzone after returning a fumble for a touchdown against the Eagles in Week 17 of 2005, a move that helped send the Redskins to the playoffs for the first time since 1999. The words at the bottom of the screen were simple, but telling: “We will miss you Sean.”

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter that the Bills ended up winning on a boneheaded Joe Gibbs unsportsmanlike conduct penalty because of his calling two consecutive timeouts to ice the kicker. What I remember most is the first Bills offensive play, when the Redskins defense took the field with only 10 men. I still have a picture of that missing man formation framed on my wall, the play that drove home the fact that Sean was gone.

I’m aware that Sean was not the perfect citizen and had gotten in trouble early in his career. I didn’t know him personally, but by most accounts he had matured and turned his personal life around with the birth of his daughter. What I do know is that Sean Taylor risked his life to protect his fiancée and daughter during a home invasion and unfortunately paid the ultimate price. For that I admire him far more than I ever could for something he did on the football field.

Sean never left a doubt in anyone’s mind that he was giving his all every play. From the minute he came into the league, Sean let everyone know that they were playing on his field.

What I miss the most is watching a Redskins game and suddenly seeing Sean come out of nowhere and level an opposing player. I don’t think I could count the number of times I heard Larry, Sonny, or Sam from Redskins Radio exclaim, “Sean Taylor nearly decapitated him!” My favorite call of all time came when Sean crushed the Steelers’ Willie Parker to break up a pass, and Sam couldn’t help but yell, “Taylor! Taylor! My God, Taylor!” That was the kind of excitement Sean brought to the game.

I’ve seen a fraction of NFL history, but I believe Sean Taylor would have gone down as one of the greatest players of all time. From the way he was playing at only 24 in 2007 it seemed as if he had limitless potential, and it made the imaginations of Redskins fans run wild. To this day I, among many others, wonder how good he could have been.

My dad and Pops have always told me about NFL legends like Jim Brown and how players today don’t compare to them. When I have kids of my own and insist that football players from my generation were the greatest of all time, I’ll tell them about Sean and how in just three and a half years he became the hardest-hitting and most feared player in the league.

Thank you, Sean, for making me proud to be a Redskins fan. We still miss you.

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