I admit I had a certain perception of Sean Taylor based on his transgressions off the field -- guns, DUI charge later dismissed, etc. That was before I actually met him after I signed with the Redskins as a free agent in March.
The Sean Taylor I met was the exact opposite of everything I thought he would be. His previous issues on the field and with the law can't totally be discounted. But to me, he came across as easy-going and likable, and extremely intelligent.
I was only an acquaintance of Sean's, not really a friend. Our one real face-to-face conversation was in the cold tub after practice, when I told him some of my theories on the NFL. He listened intently to me, a back-up interior lineman hoping to make the team, trying to teach something to a Pro-Bowl player 10 times better and more gifted than I could ever dream of being.
I also talked with him briefly about what I had seen as it relates to the media in my seven years with five organizations. Sean did not often make himself available to the media, presumably because he didn't trust them. I mentioned to him that the media was and is the only voice to his fans. And if you give reporters the time they desire and treat them with respect, they will be much more inclined to give you the benefit of the doubt, both on the field and off. He shook his head and it appeared as if he understood. I have no idea if I had any influence on him or not, though I do know he spoke with the media shortly thereafter and acknowledged how blessed he was to be an NFL player.
Ironically, Sean's minimal interactions with the media actually contributed to his popularity among players and his role as a team leader on defense. While most guys strive to be in the spotlight, Sean was comfortable keeping a low profile. His focus on the game and becoming the best player that he could be, as opposed to trying to wrangle in additional endorsement opportunities, was extremely endearing to his teammates.
He never fit the stereotypical mold of a leader. He was quiet and soft spoken and led by example, not words. Franchise-caliber players are often given some leeway in practice, but Sean showed up ready to work every day. It is an overused cliché, but any Redskin will tell you that Sean literally practiced every day as if it could be his last.
If a straw poll had been taken in the locker room to determine the players' favorite teammate, my hunch is Sean would have won.
I have limited interaction with the guys on the Redskins' active roster as I rehab my neck injury on injured reserve. I can't even fathom how difficult it will be for them to focus on football this week. Most jobs allow for some sort of bereavement leave in times of tragedy, but the nature of the NFL does not allow it to be like most jobs.
The Redskins are blessed to have one of the strongest cores of veteran leaders that I have ever played with, and those leaders will be needed now as much as ever. High-character guys with tremendous faith like James Thrash and LondonFletcher-Baker will be counted upon to carry their younger teammates through this ordeal.
There is no doubt that Sunday will be an intensely emotional day for all of the Redskins players and coaches. Sean was a great player, whose talent will be impossible to replace. But more than that, he'll be missed tremendously for what he contributed as a person to his teammates. (Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org)