A Year After Shooting, Sean Taylor's Presence Strong

Star safety shot one year ago

ASHBURN, Va. -- Jason Taylor and Chris Horton never were Sean Taylor's teammates with the Washington Redskins. Never practiced alongside him. Never slapped him on the helmet after one of those jarring tackles he delivered.
Jim Zorn never coached Sean Taylor. Never got the chance to appreciate the Pro Bowl safety's play or his personality up close. Never got the chance to know him.
And so it is a measure of the lasting effect Sean Taylor -- and his sudden death -- had on his team that even those who are new to the Redskins this season share in the sense of loss.
It was one year ago Wednesday that the 24-year-old football player was shot at his Miami-area home during a botched robbery; he died of massive blood loss a day later.
"A year ago," Redskins running back Clinton Portis said, "this dark cloud came over our heads."
Yet thanks to Portis, wideout Santana Moss and plenty of others, Sean Taylor lives on. He lives on, principally, in his old pals' hearts, but also in their words.
"They always talk about him. All the time. There was a lot of guys he meant a lot to," said defensive end Jason Taylor, traded from the Dolphins to the Redskins on the first day of this season's training camp. "I've heard a ton of stories. Everyone's told me how much I would have liked him, how much I would have loved playing with him, the kind of guy he was."
He also lives on in game films.
Horton, a rookie, has learned plenty about Sean Taylor the safety. Horton, after all, now starts at that position for the Redskins.
Even though Horton has seen his predecessor show up on video quite a bit while studying for future opponents, there is still a chill that arrives each time.
"We see film from early last year," Horton said, "and he pops up, and you're like, 'Man. God. He just laid that guy out.' He would go from here to there so fast."
In those images, Horton said, "He's definitely around. He's part of everyone's lives."
He lives on, too, in the various tangible tributes to him.
There are the T-shirts honoring Taylor that Portis wears under his jerseys. There's the salute to Taylor's jersey No. 21 that Moss -- like Portis and Taylor, a University of Miami product -- makes with his fingers after a touchdown catch.
There are Taylor's lockers, the ones sealed in Plexiglas at Redskins Park and at FedEx Field, the ones with his shoulder pads and cleats and notebooks and other odds and ends.
"The days you don't want to go out to practice, and the days you're tired and you're hurting, you look at his locker and you get inspiration," fullback Mike Sellers said. "Because rain, sleet or snow, Sean was coming to play or practice. He did everything at 100 percent."
Horton noticed the locker at the team's practice facility on Day 1 -- and he makes sure to sneak a peek whenever he's in that room, "trying not to make it obvious," he said.
"Every day, I still do walk by it and take a look," Horton added. "It just lets you know how precious life is."
There is the frame hanging near the entrance to Zorn's office, a frame holding four photos of Taylor. One shows him playing against the rival Dallas Cowboys. Another shows him with helmet off and fist raised. The inscription underneath reads, "Excuses Are Things People Say to Lie To Themselves."
Zorn carried that frame into a team meeting last week.
"That's part of the memory that we need to keep alive here on this football team -- the kind of player that he was," said Zorn, a first-year head coach who was the Seattle Seahawks' quarterbacks coach at this time last year.
"The thing I didn't really know was how much that guy impacted almost each man on this team, from the players to the coaches to the -- really, to the owner," Zorn said. "It was deeply felt, and it was an absolute gash to this football team. It took out a big divot."
Pretty much everyone associated with the Redskins has their own, personal Sean Taylor memories.
For some, such as safeties coach Steve Jackson, there are a couple of in-game hits that stand out.
For some, such as offensive lineman Randy Thomas, it's the final time they saw each other: A few days before Taylor's death, Thomas gave him a ride home and saw him interact with his infant daughter.
For some, such as team administrator Derrick Crawford, it's chats they had about their children.
"I've thought about Sean every day since he's passed," said Crawford, who grew particularly close to Taylor. "It hasn't healed."
Such thoughts and memories are sure to flood forth Sunday, when Taylor will be inducted into the Redskins' Ring of Fame before Washington's game against the visiting Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
"To see him snatched away from us -- when he was, like he was -- was just very difficult," defensive coordinator Greg Blache said, his voice cracking. "He's still very much in the hearts and minds of guys who were part of the team last year."
And, it seems, even those who were not.
Copyright AP - Associated Press
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