Leading by example
Teammate: Taylor's actions on field were exemplary
Posted: Tuesday November 27, 2007 10:11PM; Updated: Tuesday November 27, 2007 10:11PM
When the Washington Redskins were putting the hard sell on free-agent linebacker London Fletcher last March, one club official told Fletcher they needed the outgoing 10th-year veteran as much to be a defensive leader as a player.
"But after I was here for a while, during training camp, I told people, 'Why'd you need me? You already got a great leader, and it's Sean Taylor,''' Fletcher told SI.com Tuesday. "I mean, he loved football. If we were on the sidelines during practice, he'd run out to take some scout-team reps. We're getting beat bad in New England, and he's saying in the huddle, 'I don't care what the score is! Keep playing, keep playing.' Last week, before Thanksgiving, he's in the trainers' room, getting treatment, he's telling everyone in there to have a great Thanksgiving and enjoy the time with their family. That's a leader.''
Taylor, the 24-year-old Redskins Pro Bowl safety in the midst of his best NFL season, died Tuesday morning from a gunshot wound suffered at his home Monday in south Florida . Fletcher, though in his first year as Taylor's teammate, said he knew the profound impact Taylor's loss would have on the players he leaves behind.
"I think we're all shocked, saddened,'' Fletcher said. "It's senseless. Senseless and meaningless. To take a young man's life when he had so much to live for and so much to give ... it's just horrible.''
Fletcher said Taylor told him nothing last week about the break-in at his south Florida home the previous week, the incident that caused Taylor to fly to Miami twice to check on his girlfriend and 18-month-old daughter, Jackie, who lived in the home while he was in Washington playing the season. Taylor returned to the home a second time over the weekend and was sleeping there Sunday night when an intruder broke in, entered the bedroom and fired two shots. One, the fatal bullet, hit Taylor just below the groin and severed an artery, leading to massive blood loss and his death.
On Tuesday, Fletcher talked not only about Taylor's leadership but about his ability, calling him one of the three best players -- along with Marshall Faulk and Aeneas Williams -- he's played with during his decade-long NFL career.
"I thought he could have been the best safety in the history of pro football,'' Fletcher said. "He was 6-3, fierce, a hard-hitter, a great cover guy, great speed for a guy his size, great ball skills, incredibly instinctive and had a great passion for the game. Teams didn't challenge him deep. It's no secret why we've given up so many explosive plays in the middle of the field the last two weeks -- it's because Sean wasn't there.'' Taylor suffered a knee injury against Philadelphia on Nov. 11 and hadn't played the past two weeks. Even missing those two games, Taylor is tied for the NFC lead in interceptions with five.
Fletcher said teams had been trying to throw away from Taylor all season. Against Green Bay, Brett Favre had a receiver streaking up the sideline and Taylor was on the far hashmark when the Packer quarterback wound up to throw deep. Taylor ran across the field, leaped and intercepted the pass. "We're watching it on film a couple days later,'' Fletcher said, "and I just couldn't believe it. I'm like, 'That doesn't make any sense.' The ground he covered, and getting over there to intercept it, was just incredible. But I think the guys around here came to expect things like that from Sean.''
The Redskins players had a short team meeting Monday, during which coach Joe Gibbs and the team chaplain spoke to the players while Taylor was fighting for his life. The team had been scheduled to watch tape of the team's Week 12 loss at Tampa Bay, but Gibbs released them after the short meeting. The players had a scheduled off-day Tuesday. They'll return to work Wednesday to begin preparations to face Buffalo on Sunday at FedEx Field -- and to figure out how to mourn one of the best young players, and leaders, in the game.
"I don't know how we'll do it,'' Fletcher said.