|To honor slain Taylor, Redskins use 10 men on 1st defensive play|
|Written by Admin|
|Sunday, 02 December 2007 23:57|
They came, as always, hours before kickoff, but this time they carried red flowers and leather footballs and tiny teddy bears for a makeshift memorial.
Thousands upon thousands of fans came, as always, to hail their Washington Redskins on Sunday, and they also came, unlike any other time, to mourn a slain star.
And when those Redskins lined up to play defense for the first time in their first game since Pro Bowl safety Sean Taylor was shot and killed, the team sent 10 players out onto the field instead of 11.
``We were going to let him ride with us,'' assistant coach Gregg Williams said, ``one more time.''
So as the Buffalo Bills prepared to run their first play on offense, the man who replaced Taylor in Washington's lineup, Reed Doughty, stood on the sideline. The defensive players and coaches came up with the idea Saturday night and kept it secret; even head coach Joe Gibbs wasn't aware.
``It was important for the team to know that Sean was with us that one last time on the field,'' Doughty said. ``He'll always be with us, but that was special.''
After Bills running back Fred Jackson gained 22 yards on that play, Doughty entered for the next one - and he wound up making the tackle.
The 24-year-old Taylor died Tuesday, a day after being shot at his home in Florida during a burglary. The shock has yet to dissipate for Taylor's teammates and the Redskins' fans, and the grieving process continued on game day, from the cloudy, chilly hours before the kickoff until the rain-soaked end of a 17-16 comeback victory for the Bills.
Buffalo's final points came on Rian Lindell's 36-yard field goal with 4 seconds left, after Gibbs drew a 15-yard penalty for calling consecutive timeouts in an attempt to freeze the kicker.
The result made an already tough day at the end of an unimaginable week even more bitter.
``It makes your heart drop all the way to your feet,'' quarterback Jason Campbell said. ``We wanted to come out here and win one for Sean.''
Cornerback Fred Smoot felt tears welling in his eyes when he glanced over to where Taylor usually plays and didn't see his running mate on the field.
``I didn't show up to play this game,'' Smoot said. ``I showed up for a tribute for my friend, to send him out right - and we found a way to mess it up.''
Taylor was remembered in many ways, on the field of play and off, including the uniform patches worn by the Redskins and the helmet stickers worn by both teams.
Before the game, the stadium's public address announcer intoned, ``We gather here today shocked and saddened,'' and the scoreboard showed a 4-minute video, including footage of Taylor playing football. In one of the most poignant segments, Gibbs, Williams and players spoke into the camera as though addressing Taylor directly.
There was more. So much more.
After scoring the game's only touchdown, running back Clinton Portis, a teammate of Taylor's at the University of Miami, lifted his jersey to reveal a T-shirt marking his friend's memory. After a catch, receiver Santana Moss - another college teammate - put up a hand with his thumb and ring finger tucked down and three fingers raised. It was his way of saying, ``21.''
That number was everywhere: on the white towels the team handed out to the 85,000 spectators on their way into the stadium; on burgundy, white or black versions of the team's jersey; on handmade T-shirts; on hats, on wristbands, on handwritten signs held aloft. A trio of teenagers each wrote ``RIP #21'' on a cheek.
``You look around and see all the '21s.' You see his face on some of the posters. I thought of Sean every second,'' defensive lineman Phillip Daniels said. ``For the most part, we tried to put our pain aside.''
That was tough to do for cornerback Shawn Springs as he stood in the locker room. The adjoining locker is Taylor's, and it was sealed with Plexiglas on Sunday, containing a jersey stretched over shoulder pads and everything else he would have needed to play, right down to the red helmet, black shoes and white socks.
``I was sad,'' Springs said, ``but I knew he was with us.''
Perhaps that's what was on the mind of spectators who spoke about Taylor in the present tense. Many approached a cordoned-off patch of grass where the Redskins painted a large ``21'' near the team store - which was under orders not to sell jerseys or other items with his name or number this day.
Starting at 7:30 a.m., fans arrived to look quietly at the display, snap a photo, leave objects. The piles kept spreading, with photos, flickering candles and posters with personal messages. On and on it went. One child left a poem. Another left a football he'd inscribed.
In a nearby parking lot, a group of pals gathered for a tailgating party that seemed slightly more subdued than usual. Drew Marusak, a commercial developer from Silver Spring, jutted a thumb proudly at his white jersey with the burgundy ``21.''
``I'm going to retire this jersey after today. Frame it,'' Marusak said. ``It's sad. I thought this guy was going to be a Redskin for life.''
As anyone at this stadium on this day will attest, Taylor's memory won't fade soon.