"God made certain people to play football. He was one of them." - Redskins Head coach, Joe Gibbs
Any diehard Redskins fan knows the tragic story of Sean Taylor, whom we lost over eight years ago. As one of the diehards, I've recollected all the memories I have of Taylor and compiled them here for sharing.
The thing about Sean Taylor that sometimes gets overlooked is that he really did everything well. It's hard to find a fault to his game. Everyone seems to think of the hard hitting that Taylor inflicted on his opponents, earning him the nickname "meast," half man, half beast. But Taylor mastered all facets of the game. He could cover ground with extreme speed, tackle effortlessly, intercept a lot of passes, play deep, play close to the line of scrimmage, rush the passer, block on special teams, tackle on special teams, run back short field goal attempts, and even line up at receiver, which he did a couple of times in 2005. You could just see the passion he had when he played. When Taylor had the ball in his hands, he wanted to score every time. My Dad and I would also say to each other, "Gosh! That was a huge hit! Who was that, Taylor?" Yes, it was Sean, our first guess at whoever made a lightning smash of a hit.
In the Redskins playoff run in 2005, Sean Taylor scooped up two fumble recoveries and ran them back for touchdowns in back to back games against the Eagles and Buccaneers. That was the first time I thought to myself, "Whoa, this guy is special."
On November 26th, 2006, my Dad and I went to see the Redskins play the Panthers. Ahead 17-13 deep in the 4th quarter, the Redskins needed a stop on defense. On 4th and six, Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme dumped the ball of short to his receiver. Taylor came up like a bullet and made a terrific open field tackle to force a turnover on downs.
Later in the game, the Panthers got the ball back for one last chance to score. Under pressure, Delhomme heaved the ball up for grabs some forty yards down the field. Sitting right in the center of the endzone in the club level section, I saw Taylor leap up in the air to intercept the pass. As always, when Taylor got the ball in his hands, he wanted more. He started to get up because he wasn't touched. Some other Redskin players were motioning for Taylor to just go down and take the knee but Taylor immediately ignored them and took off running down the field before going out of bounds and throwing the ball up into the stands.
Another great play Taylor made was during a game against the Cowboys. Troy Vincent blocked a field goal that would have won Dallas the game. Taylor picked the ball up and raced downfield to put the Redskins in field goal range. The kick was good and the Redskins won 22-19.
Taylor also made the best hit in pro bowl history.
Another memory that stands out to me is on October 21st, 2007. The Redskins were hosting the Cardinals and I was at the game with my parents. Kurt Warner threw a pass downfield that landed right in the hands of Taylor. He took off so fast down the sideline for 48 yards. "I thought he was going all the way!" my Dad exclaimed. The play would turn out to be Taylor's 12th and last interception of his career.
On November 27th, 2007, I went to school to hear some tragic news. A friend in my History class told me that Sean Taylor got shot in his home in Florida and died. I thought he was joking. Taylor was just picking off passes. He had five and the season wasn't even halfway done. He was just turning into one of the best in the game. Now he's gone in the blink of an eye?
I went home and asked my Dad if he heard that Taylor had died and he said he did. It was just so devastating. The Redskins community was shocked. We were all incredibly saddened and I may have cried a little.
The game after Taylor's death was against the Bills. On the Bills first play from scrimmage, the Redskins had only ten players on the field to pay homage to Taylor. They gave up a 22 yard run. Reed Doughty then entered the game. The Redskins would lose the game 16-17 after Joe Gibbs made the mistake of calling two successive timeouts, which is a 15 yard penalty. The bills kicked a field goal with little time left to put them ahead.
The Redskins have had the worst luck at safety since Sean Taylor's passing. Ryan Clark was released and went on to have a great career with the Steelers. Adam Archuleta did zilch in his only season in Washington. Chris Horton had one game in which he recorded three turnovers then the injury bug caught up to him and was reduced to a backup before being released. Kareem Moore was the starting safety one season but fizzled out of the league quickly. LaRon Landry had a couple of solid seasons but got beat deep a lot and never fully reached his potential. Ryan Clark returned for his final season and played like an old man. Rambo looked clueless. Phillip Thomas looked confused. You get the idea.
When I played football in High School, Sean Taylor was still a name everyone knew. I requested #21 as my jersey number my sophomore year to honor Taylor. Some of the older players would joke, "Oh number 21? You better play well wearing that number!" Taylor and I both played safety, so why not?
Funny enough, I changed my number to 37 once I was on Varsity to pay respect to Reed Doughty, a teammate of Taylor's. There was this little joke the players and I would make that I wore #37 because I'm a white safety and Doughty was a white safety, too. There aren't too many white safeties in the game anymore.
The number 21 is unofficially retired on the Redskins available jersey numbers out of respect for Taylor. If you want to talk about an eerie occurrence, look at the point differential of the score of the last two games of the 2007 season. The redskins beat the Cowboys in week 17, 27-6 to launch them into the playoffs. 27-6= 21. The following week the Redskins lost to the Seahawks, 14-35. 35-14= 21. #21 lives on in every Redskins fan's heart, always.
"I just kind of wished and dreamed and hoped that you know maybe one day I'll get a chance and fortunately, god-willingly I was able to get that chance with the Redskins." - #21 Sean Taylor (1983 - 2007)