|3,000 attend funeral for Redskins star Sean Taylor|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 03 December 2007 14:16|
Later, 18-month-old Jackie Taylor was wide awake and running wind sprints past the huge flower arrangements in front of the stage. Wearing a red dress, she stood and applauded with the rest of the audience following the introduction of her father's team, the Washington Redskins. She waved a milk bottle, sucked on a pacifier and went up and down the front row hugging grieving relatives.
There were plenty of tears at Taylor's three-hour funeral Monday, but also ripples of laughter and words of inspiration.
``Let me hear you scream!'' shouted the Rev. Jesse Jackson, urging the audience to cheer Taylor's memory. ``One more time! This is a celebration!''
The 24-year-old Taylor died last Tuesday, barely 24 hours after he was shot in the bedroom of his home a few miles from where he grew up. Police say he was a victim of a botched burglary, and four young men have been charged with unpremeditated murder. A lawyer for one suspect said a fifth suspect was being sought.
``It's times like this that all of us struggle to find meaning in life,'' NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told mourners.
``Today my heart is broken,'' said LaVar Arrington, wiping away tears as he recalled his two years as Taylor's teammate with the Redskins. ``I'll get through it. We'll all get through it.''
The funeral sought closure through prayers, tributes and gospel music. One singer expended so much emotion she collapsed into a chair upon leaving the stage and was carried away in it as the service continued.
Eulogies by family, friends and dignitaries praised Taylor's baby face, shy smile, kindness, warmth, faith and extraordinary athletic skills.
``Many times God must have looked down and said, 'Man, I made a great football player,''' Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said.
Michael Outar recalled the start of his nephew's football career as a 6-year-old with the Homestead Hurricanes. Young Sean was assigned No. 66 and a place on the defensive line.
``He asked me, 'Uncle Michael, what do I do?' I told him, 'Hit the guy with the ball.' That's what he did, over and over,'' Outar said.
Taylor grew into a hard-hitting safety. He helped the Miami Hurricanes win the 2001 national championship, became a first-round NFL draft pick in 2004 and led the NFC in interceptions this season when a knee injury sidelined him last month.
The list of celebrities in attendance was long. They included more than two dozen former Hurricanes now in the NFL, among them Edgerrin James, Devin Hester and Jeremy Shockey. Former Hurricanes coaches Larry Coker and Butch Davis sat in the front row, along with current coach Randy Shannon.
Mourners also included actor Andy Garcia, whose niece, Jackie Garcia, was Taylor's girlfriend and the mother of their child; and O.J. Simpson, whose children attended the same high school as Taylor.
Simpson expressed sympathy for the relatives of those arrested, as well as for Taylor.
``It's horrible, not only for him, but for those other four families,'' Simpson said. ``There are four other lives that are gone.''
Videotaped tributes on large screens showed a sequence of bone-crunching hits and broken-field runs by Taylor with the Redskins, Hurricanes and Gulliver Preparatory in Miami. The final tribute closed with the words ``We will miss you Sean'' over a photo of him leaping across the goal line after an interception.
The Redskins organization filled an entire section of seats, with even their mascot present. The team flew down in a charter one day after an emotional 17-16 loss to Buffalo, and they play again Thursday.
``Despite what happened yesterday, it doesn't matter now,'' defensive end Andre Carter said after the funeral. ``We were happy to be here and be part of the service and to pay our respects.''
Gibbs' eulogy focused on faith. He told the mourners Taylor became more spiritual as he matured after joining the team.
``His life began to change,'' Gibbs said. ``You saw the way he loved Jackie and Jackie.''
Others also spoke of Taylor's transformation following the birth of his daughter. They addressed only indirectly his earlier brushes with the law, which started with a 2001 fist fight and included most recently a 2005 confrontation involving guns.
There was pointed criticism for the way the media portrayed Taylor's past in the wake of his violent death.
``One of the things that I hope comes out of this tragedy is that the media get a small lesson in grace and humility,'' said Florida City mayor Otis Wallace, a friend of the Taylor family. ``For those who took the liberty of recklessly speculating that this young man's death was caused by the way he lived, all I can say is they should be ashamed.''
The audience responded with a standing ovation.
On the other side of the state, in Fort Myers, the four young men charged in Taylor's death sat in jail cells. Ed Griffith, a spokesman for the Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office, said they could be in court as early as Tuesday morning.
Accused are Eric Rivera, 17; Charles Wardlow, 18; Jason Mitchell, 19; and Venjah Hunte, 20, who face charges of unpremeditated murder, armed burglary and home invasion with a firearm or another deadly weapon.
Associated Press Writers Rasha Madkour, Sarah Larimer and Matt Sedensky contributed to this report.