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How I learned Sean Taylor had been shot in a deadly home invasion

How I learned Sean Taylor had been shot in a deadly home invasion

NBC Sports Bay Area’s Kelli Johnson, who covered the Redskins in 2007 for CSN Mid-Atlantic, recalls covering the tragic passing of Washington star safety Sean Taylor.

Why? It’s a question I’ve asked over and over again since Sean Taylor’s death 13 years ago. 

It still feels like a bad dream, a nightmare that left me standing in front of his home in Miami, in a daze, numb, covering the murder scene of not just a star player that I covered in the NFL, but a friend I was just getting to know. Sean should be here today. He should be watching his beautiful daughter, Jackie, grow up. He should have just wrapped up a Hall-of-Fame career.  But just as Sean was beginning to realize his greatness, both as a player and more importantly as a man, his life was tragically taken.  

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The day we learned Sean had been shot was November 26, 2007. It was after the Redskins played the Bucs. I was in the Tampa airport about to board a plane home with my crew, when I got a call from work. I don’t remember who called me. All I remember is hearing that Sean Taylor is fighting for his life in a hospital in Miami. I was told to get my bags off the plane and get down there. 

At first, I didn’t believe it. And then when we heard there were conflicting reports over whether it was the Redskins’ Sean Taylor or someone else, I immediately thought it had to be the latter. But it wasn’t. When we finally got to the hospital in Miami, the grave reality of the situation hit me and it was devastating.  It didn’t feel real.  

The rest of the day and night is all a blur. I only remember when Redskins owner Dan Snyder and Sean’s closest friends on the team, Clinton Portis and Santana Moss, showed up. And later around midnight or 1 a.m., when Sean’s dad, Pedro, came out to give us an update. Pedro, or Pete as we came to know him, sounded hopeful after Sean had moved his hand and fluttered his eyes, giving his family and doctors encouraging signs that maybe he had turned a corner.

FACEBOOK LIVE AT 5 PM: HEAR MORE ABOUT SEAN TAYLOR ON REDSKINS TALK AND FRIENDS

It was the good news we all need to finally leave and head to our hotel, with the hope that Sean was going to survive. But somewhere around 4:45 or 5:00 am that morning, after just a few hours of restless sleep, I got another call. The one I was dreading. Sean Taylor was dead. I was frozen.  

It was the beginning of the worst day of my professional career, and one of the worst days of my life.  

Sean was guarded and shy, when he arrived in Washington as the fifth overall draft pick in 2004, and his mistrust in the media only grew the following seasons, after a few off-the-field incidents, including a DUI. 

I remember him saying that he always felt like the media was trying to get him to say something that would make him look bad or get him in trouble. I tried to explain to him that being available to the media from time to time would only help him. I pushed him to do a few interviews so that fans and the world could get to know the Sean that I had gotten to know. That Sean was kind and thoughtful. He was always asking me questions, he was inquisitive. We would chat about food and family and random stuff. And when his daughter was born, man did his eyes light up when he talked about her. All of the sudden he had a purpose in life: to provide for her and be the best dad he could be.  

RELATED: WHERE WOULD TAYLOR RANK AMONG BEST SAFETIES EVER?

When I think about Sean now, I always go back to something he once said. When talking about how seriously he takes his job, he said, “it’s almost like you play a kid’s game for a king’s ransom”. And that was Sean. A big kid, who loved football and played the game with a reckless abandon and a natural talent few people in this world are blessed with. To see him on the football field in his pads was a sight that blew you away. He looked like a linebacker, yet he was a safety, who could fly from sideline to sideline and close in on a pass in the blink of an eye.

He was so good, so explosive. He could make a huge mistake in coverage and still recover to break up a play.  

I’ll never forget his two-interception day of Brett Favre at Lambeau Field, that gave Favre the NFL record in interceptions. Sean’s second pick was just a normal play for him, but to others it was a jaw-dropping display of his incredible athletic prowess and instincts, with Sean coming out of nowhere to snag the ball down the sideline. It was Hall-of-Fame type talent. His bust would’ve ended up in Canton, there’s no doubt in my mind.

The last sit-down interview I did with Sean before his death happened during training camp of that 2007 season. He had on an army green hat and spoke very softly, but he was relaxed, almost unguarded. And when he flashed that beautiful, shy smile, the one he reserved for only a small few, I thought, this is the Sean I want everyone to see and know.  The Sean the world was unjustly robbed of at just 24 years old. Why? He should still be here.

Listen to the full episode of Sports Uncovered's Sean Taylor: The NFL Superstar We Didn't Get to Know, click here.

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Dwayne Haskins believes he gives Washington best chance to win, even if Alex Smith can play

Dwayne Haskins believes he gives Washington best chance to win, even if Alex Smith can play

While many expect Dwayne Haskins to be Washington's quarterback in Week 1, head coach Ron Rivera has yet to formally name a starting quarterback and has preached "pure competition" between Haskins and Kyle Allen.

The battle for the job has the potential to take an interesting twist in the coming weeks if veteran Alex Smith is able to return from the active/PUP list. In a media session with local reporters on Monday, Rivera said Smith is "going to be in the throes of this competition" if he's able to return.

However, even if Smith is healthy enough to compete for the starting job, Haskins believes he's the best man for the job. 

"All respect for everyone in that room, but I feel like I give us the best opportunity," Haskins told Julie Donaldson, Washington's Senior VP of Media and Content. "I look forward to showing it."

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Haskins had his growing pains as a rookie but really started to show flashes of his potential towards the end of the season before an ankle injury prematurely ended his first season as a pro. Over his final six quarters, Haskins finished with 394 passing yards on a 72 percent completion rate with four touchdowns and zero turnovers. 

Since Rivera took over as head coach in January, he's challenged Haskins to take command of the job, and the quarterback has responded. Haskins has dropped close to 20 pounds this offseason and said he is in the best shape of his life. He's spent the bulk of his offseason training and learning from numerous NFL stars, most notably Deshaun Watson, Cam Newton and Odell Beckham Jr.

Although Rivera has yet to name Haskins the starter, he's taken notice of the 23-year-old's progress and has publicly praised him for it. In a media session last week, several comments the head coach made sounded as if he was ready to move in the direction with Haskins as QB1.

While Haskins and Smith may be directly competing with one another, the two have a strong relationship.

Haskins has said multiple times how much of a help Smith was to him as a rookie. On Monday, Haskins said he looks at Smith as a "mentor" to him.

"He's a great teammate," Haskins said. "Somebody in the meeting room that we look for answers and questions and everything he's been through in his long tenure as a professional quarterback in the NFL. He's someone I kind of look to as a mentor in that sense."

RELATED: MORGAN MOSES IS IMPRESSED WITH DWAYNE HASKINS 'KNOWING HE'S GOING TO BE NO. 1 QB'

Smith's journey is remarkable, and the fact that he's even close to playing after suffering the gruesome leg injury he had in November 2018 is already impressive enough within itself. And of the three quarterbacks, Smith is by far the most proven and experienced.

But Washington is currently in a rebuild, and Rivera has said multiple times that the 2020 season will be crucial in determining who he sees as core players on his roster. So, starting a 35-year-old Smith over Haskins, a second-year player who the team invested a first-round pick in just one year ago, wouldn't make much sense.

Yet, if Smith does end up being healthy enough to compete for the job, Haskins is ready to embrace the challenge.

"I'm extremely happy and excited for Alex. Having watched him train last year and him just getting into the position to try and play this year...I can tell how much work he's put in," Haskins said. "I'm excited for him. Hopefully he gets back to where he needs to be, and I look forward to competing with him and everything of that nature."

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Dan Snyder's attorney raises conspiracy questions with defamation suit

Dan Snyder's attorney raises conspiracy questions with defamation suit

Washington Football Team owner Dan Snyder wants to clear the air about a series of slanderous rumors that his attorney believes were part of a wider campaign to spread misinformation and defame his character. 

"There's a lot of things going on in Washington right now regarding the club and there are people that may have some motives to falsely attack Mr. Snyder," attorney Joe Tacopina, who represents Snyder, said in an interview with NBC Sports Washington. 

The center of the issue comes from an article that ran on meaww.com - a website owned by India-based company Media Entertainment Arts WorldWide - alleging Snyder had personal involvement with financier Jeffrey Epstein, the convicted sex offender who killed himself while in prison last year. 

"Dan Snyder has nothing to do with [Epstein] and had nothing to do with him," Tacopina said of the article. 

That article, shared repeatedly via social media, deeply bothered the Snyder family and now the owner wants to do everything in his power to clear his name. 

In the process, Tacopina alleges that a former employee was spreading the disinformation at the behest of a financial backer. Snyder is taking legal action against former Washington employee Mary Ellen Blair in an attempt to prove she intentionally spread lies and was told to do so by a third party. 

"We believe there are obviously people behind that had their own purposes for doing it," Tacopina said. The lawsuits aim to "to uncover who’s behind the scenes, who’s pulling the strings."

RELATED: DAN SNYDER FILES TWO DEFAMATION LAWSUITS

In a New York Times report, Blair is connected to Dwight Schar, one of the Washington minority owners looking to sell his shares in the team. The article contends that Blair dealt with financial hardships and lives in a building that Schar's daughter's real estate development company owns.

Asked if the misinformation and defamation lawsuits have anything to do with Washington's minority partners looking to sell 40 percent of the team, Tacopina would not speculate, but he did respond. 

"I think common sense will sort of play out. I think the evidence in this case will present us with who’s behind this," Tacopina said. 

Tacopina has an impressive and high-profile legal track record. He worked with Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill to end his decade-long legal saga and multiple jail visits. He also lists Alex Rodriguez and Jay-Z as clients. 

This looks to be just the beginning of a series of legal actions that could unclose a significant conspiracy against the Washington Football Team owner. Then again, it could be nothing. The legal process will play out.

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