MARQUIS COOPER would have turned 27 on March 11, less than two weeks after the Raiders linebacker embarked upon a fishing trip with three friends in the Gulf of Mexico. Hours after leaving Clearwater, Fla., the group was caught in strong winds and heavy seas. Cooper's 21-foot boat capsized, and when the Coast Guard found it two days later only former South Florida football player Nick Schuyler, 24, was rescued. On March 3 the Coast Guard called off the search for Cooper, former Buccaneers defensive end Corey Smith, 29, and former USF tight end Will Bleakley, 25.
Schuyler told authorities his friends floated away from the boat, and all three are believed dead. So on March 11, instead of celebrating a birthday, Cooper's wife, Rebekah, took a step toward closure: She filed a petition in circuit court for a presumptive death certificate, which would enable her to collect life insurance and other benefits. Cooper's family said there won't be a memorial service. "One day the pain will be a little less burdensome," said Cooper's father, Bruce. "Right now, we just need time to be together and remember Marquis."