Honoring a fallen teammate
Redskins remember Taylor and a Week 13 breakdown
Posted: Monday December 3, 2007 1:30AM; Updated: Monday December 3, 2007 10:50AM
NEW YORK -- We'll have time later to dissect the Cowboys taking over the NFC, the Colts icing their fifth straight AFC South title, the once (LaDainian Tomlinson) and future (Adrian Peterson) rushing kings and Eli Manning saving himself from another week of the New York tabloid gallows. But we'd be doing the game, and Sean Taylor's memory, a disservice by not focusing on the late Washington safety first this week.
I didn't know Taylor. Never met him. Like most people, I read some of the negative things involving Taylor on and off the field -- spitting at a Tampa Bay player in the heat of battle two years ago, the 2005 fight involving guns over stolen ATVs, his unwillingness to play ball with Joe Gibbs and attend the offseason program early in his career, his media freeze-out. When he was shot, I immediately thought -- though I didn't write it -- that it was probably a revenge killing from a sordid affair in his past. I was proven wrong when four kids with no real relationship to Taylor were arrested for his murder on Friday.
Some coaches have an ethos about injuries that reminds me of how the NFL is approaching this situation. Bill Parcells used to say if a player was hurt and unavailable, the able-bodied players shouldn't see him. I thought it was sad that in the Giants' Super Bowl win over Buffalo in January 1991, the man who'd quarterbacked them for 80 percent of that season, Phil Simms, left Tampa Stadium at halftime and went back to the hotel. He didn't feel like he was a part of it all. That's the way a lot of coaches are with players who aren't available. The league has a similar approach to dealing with death. The Redskins played a game Sunday. They play another one Thursday. The league's not postponing their games because their best player -- arguably -- was gunned down in cold blood. The show must go on. But not in this space ... not for a few paragraphs, anyway.
I thought that in fairness to Taylor's memory, I'd let three people who knew him tell you a story about their relationship with him.
This is what I know about Chris Samuels, the person: In 2000, the year he was drafted No. 3 overall by Washington, I followed him for several months to do a Sports Illustrated profile. The day before the draft, Samuels was in his Times Square hotel room. There was a knock at the door. "Housekeeping,'' the woman said. Samuels said no thanks, and she asked when she could clean the room. He said, "You don't have to.'' She insisted, he said no again, and she went away. Samuels made the bed himself, hung his towel on the rack in the bathroom and tidied the bathroom before going out.
Samuels was raised correctly. Always polite, always a gentleman and now the respected leader of the Redskins. We spoke on Thursday and Saturday about Taylor, his death and its meaning.
"I'm really frustrated how everyone is focusing on Sean's past,'' Samuels said. "What does his past have to do with what happened here? Sean was in bed by 8 o'clock that night with his family, knowing he had to get up the next day to get treatment on his [injured] knee. I am telling you Sean was not a thug. Sean was one of the best guys I knew. And he was a victim of a shooting in his house. They came in to his bedroom and shot him in cold blood. What was he doing wrong? Sleeping, in his own bed?
"How, in this great country, can a man be asleep in his own bedroom, get shot, and in the media it's like he did something wrong to deserve this? It's just wrong. I understand the media has a job to do. But before people jump to conclusions, just please let the police do their job. When we find out what really happened, then everyone can say what they want. But right now, let the family mourn in peace. Let us mourn in peace.''
"When's the last conversation you had with him?'' I asked.
"Last week,'' Samuels said. "He'd missed a couple of games with his knee injury, and I saw him in the locker room, and I said, 'Sean, we miss you. We need you.' He said, 'Chris, just hold it together a little while longer. I'll be back. I can't wait to get back.' That was him. He loved the game. Never wanted to feel he was letting his teammates down. He was the happiest guy on the team every day. He loved football, loved being around the guys. He had the best attitude. And he laid it on the line every week, in practice and in games. While the rest of the team was taking a break during practice, he'd jump out there on the scout team. As a player and as a leader, he was on the level of a Ronnie Lott.''
Saturday night, Samuels was still down. But he said the team was at least relieved the cops solved the case, apparently.
"We didn't want Sean to die without knowing why,'' he said. "We're feeling good that the guys were caught. But still, it's a senseless, terrible tragedy. A good man is dead, for no reason.''