Let The Taylor Talk Rest In Peace, Too

By John McGrath
Updated: January 4, 2008

TACOMA — As the Washington Redskins continue their very public grieving over murdered teammate Sean Taylor, the distinction between mourning the dead and exploiting the dead is becoming ever more blurry.

Before attending the Dec. 3 funeral for the Pro Bowl free safety – an innocent victim in the botched burglary of his South Florida home – the Redskins paid their respects during a stirring pregame tribute culminated by the defense lining up for its first play against Buffalo without a free safety.

Washington players wore No. 21 decals on their helmets – the decals were distributed to players around the NFL – and dedicated the remainder of their season to the talented, once troubled young man who died before those outside the Redskins’ headquarters learned of his newfound commitment to responsibility.

But the solemn dignity of the Missing Man tribute has devolved into a maudlin circus that’s turned Taylor from a tragic figure into the patron saint of an improbable Super Bowl contender.

It’s one thing when the slain safety is commemorated by hats, T-shirts, souvenir magnets and No. 21 rally towels, as proceeds from those sales are being funneled toward a memorial fund the Redskins have established for Taylor’s 1-year-old daughter.

On the other hand, what is the team’s motive in releasing a depth chart noting that Taylor will start at free safety for the first-round playoff game scheduled Saturday at Qwest Field?

We know what happened – we won’t ever forget the first NFL player murdered during the course of a season – but we don’t need an intentionally committed clerical error to grasp the reality of a senseless killing.

And so I wonder: Is the inclusion of Taylor on the depth chart a genuine tribute, or the latest nod to a macabre superstition?

It’s a fair question, given the Redskins’ reaction to their season-finale victory against the Cowboys last Sunday. Unable to comprehend how two disparate forces were at work at the same time – Washington needed to win, Dallas didn’t – coach Joe Gibbs and his players chose to dwell on the seemingly predestined margin of a final score (Redskins 27, Cowboys 6) that found the rivals separated by 21 points.

Taylor’s jersey number was 21.

“I don’t believe in coincidences,” Washington linebacker London Fletcher told reporters.

“Our guys, we didn’t think it was by accident that we won by 21,” Gibbs said. “I’ll put it that way.”

And I’ll put it this way: It was a coincidence – a chain of events exclusive to a football game in Landover, Md., which had nothing to do with a fatal gunshot in Miami a month earlier – that enabled the Redskins to win by 21 points.

On an afternoon Dallas showed up at FedEx Field with a dumbed-down, two-tiered game plan (first was to escape without anybody suffering a major injury; second was to escape without anybody suffering a minor injury), the Redskins honored Taylor by playing their best.

The effort was admirable, and didn’t need the inspiration of an autographed Taylor photograph that surfaced on a Redskins fan Web site. Underneath his signature, Taylor wrote, “We Want Dallas.”

The “We Want Dallas” autographed photo was relayed to Washington defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who showed it on an overhead projector during the team’s Saturday night film session.

Coaches are always looking for an edge, legitimate or otherwise, and if I’m Williams, I’m probably tempted to make the “We Want Dallas” photo part of my film presentation, too.

But if the idea is to honor a teammate who died too soon, then honor him. Stop the nonsense about Taylor’s influence in arranging predestined point spreads, and replace his name on the depth chart for Saturday’s game in Seattle with starter Reed Doughty. He wears No. 37. As we speak, the Seahawks are breaking down the tendencies of No. 37.

Say this about the Redskins: They didn’t invent the concept of the football martyr. That tradition goes all the way back to Notre Dame’s Knute Rockne. At halftime of a game against Army in 1928, Rockne recalled his 1920 deathbed conversation with the great George Gipp. The Fighting Irish ended up winning, 12-6.

We’ll never know how much of that legendary halftime speech was factual, but at least Rockne waited eight years before converting Gipp into a lucky charm. The Redskins didn’t wait eight weeks.

Sean Taylor was murdered in the middle of the night, moments after he was awakened in his bed. However the Redskins wish to commemorate his eventful but too-short life, they should know this:

He wasn’t lucky, and he wasn’t charmed.