Writing about Sean Taylor’s death at this point may seem a bit late. After all, we’ve already had every possible combination of stories regarding his shooting, career, and personal life shoved down our throats by everyone who’s ever drawn a paycheck from ESPN (or any other media outlet, for that matter). The truth is, for quite a while I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say. It’s not my place to try and analyze the circumstances surrounding his death. The truth of the matter is that we don’t even know what exactly those circumstances were. The only thing I can do is talk about Taylor the way I remember him.
I didn’t know Sean Taylor personally; I never even saw him play in person. He left UM about 18 months before I enrolled here, and living in Buffalo and Miami I rarely saw Redskins games over the past couple of years. Despite that, I have a few memories of the guy whose teammates called him Meast (half-man, half-beast).
The first time I watched the Miami Hurricanes play football with any kind of rooting interest was the 2002 Fiesta Bowl. Outcome aside, I remember watching some guy wearing number 26 fly around the field like a guided missile. Granted, that was a defense loaded with NFL talent (Jon Vilma, DJ Williams, Vince Wilfork, Antrel Rolle, William Joeseph and Jerome McDougle were all first-round picks from that defense) but I remember being amazed by Taylor because I thought he was a linebacker for almost a quarter. This huge guy was up in the box hitting Maurice Clarett in the mouth at every opportunity. It was only after he picked off OSU quarterback Craig Krenzel downfield that I realized he was in fact a safety; after that I watched him on pretty much every defensive play because I couldn’t believe that a DB was that fast and that big. Of course, there was the play later in the game where Taylor intercepted Krenzel and then had the ball taken from him by Clarett. I consider that a pretty good metaphor for the game, but at the moment that’s neither here nor there. The Meast finished the game with a career high 11 tackles and two picks, and I had found my first favorite ‘Cane.
I remember being in Boston the following October on some sort of school trip. I don’t even remember why I was there, but I remember the hunt to find the one television in the city that wasn’t tuned to coverage of the “Aaron-Bleeping-Boone” ALCS so that I could watch part of the Miami-FSU game. I remember only two plays from that game; one was Walter Payton’s son Jarrett running over a Seminole defender on the goal line. The other was Taylor’s winding, cutback-filled 50-yard INT touchdown in the rain in Tallahassee. I was screaming like an idiot in the middle of Boston as everyone else in town was busy taking sides in the Pedro/Zimmer “fight.”
After the season, I watched the Heisman presentation show and absolutely could not fathom how Taylor, a finalist for the Jim Thorpe award for best collegiate DB, was snubbed in favor of Oklahoma corner Derrick Strait. Taylor had 10 picks that year, tying Bennie Blades’ school record and setting a UM record with his 3 pick-sixes. Strait, for the record, was a third-round pick of the Jets and never got above special teams on the depth chart. He was released by four teams in three years (in addition to being traded in a deal that fell through when the other player failed a physical) and is currently unemployed.
I visited UM’s campus for the first time in the spring of 2004, sometime after Taylor declared for the draft but before the draft actually happened. While purchasing a bunch of “U”-related crap at the bookstore, I spotted the football merchandise. They didn’t have a #26 in my size; if memory serves, they only had it in children’s sizes. Slightly dejected, I settled for the Kellen Winslow #81 that currently hangs in my closet between Roscoe Parrish and Devin Hester.
After the Redskins picked Taylor fifth overall in that year’s draft, I didn’t follow his career as closely. I no longer watched him flying around the field making plays every week, but every time I saw him light somebody up on SportsCenter, I’d laugh a little and think “yeah, that looks about right.” Even last year in the Pro Bowl, when he annihilated reigning Bills team MVP Brian Moorman on a fake punt, I laughed. I waited until I was sure Moorman was okay first, but I still laughed.
When I saw the shooting on the bottom line of ESPN last Sunday, I honestly wasn’t that concerned. Maybe it was the fact that current Hurricanes safety Willie Cooper was shot in the leg last year and was practicing a week later. Maybe it was the fact that Kevin Everett wasn’t ever supposed to walk again, yet did so 37 days later. At worst, I figured he was going to be placed on IR, and the national media would go through their usual round of “Thug U” jokes. I went to bed that night confident that Taylor was going to make it. My roommate woke me up at 7 the next morning to tell me that he hadn’t.
Like I said earlier, I never met Sean Taylor. I don’t have any special insight that I can offer about the man. I saw the same things that everyone who watched him play saw. He was a young man who had tremendous physical gifts, and he certainly used him. Every snap of every game, Sean Taylor simply played his ass off. Every time he walked off the field, he had given it everything he had. He was everything you could ask for in a football player, and he will be missed.
In a few hours, the Bills will play the Redskins. There will be some sort of memorial before the game, and I’m sure we will all hear far too many uncomfortable reminders of this senseless crime, and of the 18-month old girl who will grow up without her father as a result. Obviously, my thoughts and prayers are with her, and the rest of the Taylor family.
There’s a memorial service scheduled for Monday, and I’m sure there will be extremely thorough coverage by the media. I’m not going to watch it. Personally, I cannot think of Sean Taylor as a body in a casket. I will instead assume that he’s watching the Skins and ‘Canes play every week from the best seat in the house, and smiling a little every time somebody lowers the boom on a wide receiver who thought he could go across the middle unchallenged.
Rest in Peace, Sean. Thanks for being the Meast.