The tragic death of Sean Taylor in 2007 was a heartbreaking moment for many inside and outside the Redskins organization. Taylor was an immensely talented safety, but more so he was a close friend, role model and member of Washington's football family.
What made the following days even more difficult for the Redskins players and coaches was that there was still football to be played even as they dealt with their enormous grief. Just five days after Taylor was killed, the Redskins were scheduled to take on the Buffalo Bills in a Week 13 matchup.
In the newest Sports Uncovered Podcast from NBC Sports titled "Sean Taylor, The NFL Superstar We Didn't Get To Know," numerous Redskins players, coaches, former college teammates and more shared stories of their experiences with Sean Taylor, reactions to his death and the legacy he has left on the NFL today. That included a reflection on what it was like to take the field so soon after the tragic event.
From those who were there, it was a day filled with emotions like none other. December 2, 2007 was not just another Sunday, but rather a chance for the Redskins to honor a man they loved greatly.
Days before the game, those in the organization were understandably focused on anything but football. Taylor's death was sudden and something no one could have seen coming. Joe Gibbs was the head coach at the time, and the Hall-of-Famer remembers seeing a change in the locker room as the player's dealt with the shock and sadness.
“It was a very emotional week, nobody had even been through anything like that," Gibbs said. "We missed him. You could see it in the player’s eyes. It was hard to get them back after we lost Sean.”
Despite the emotions the team was dealing with, the Redskins would take the field on Sunday. Through all the pain and heartbreak, many saw the game as an opportunity to honor Taylor. By going out and competing, they were carrying on their teammate's legacy.
“Everybody came together and tried to elevate their level of play to ‘what would Sean do?’ How would Sean play in this moment?” former Redskins running back Clinton Portis said.
The most touching moment of the contest came on the first play from scrimmage for the Washington defense. Taking the field, the Redskins only sent 10 men out, leaving the last spot on the unit empty for Sean Taylor.
It was an idea that was created by former Redskins defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and team owner Dan Synder. Once the gesture was proposed to the entire team, it became something that unified the organization in the wake of tragedy and sent chills throughout the stadium.
“Once we decided to do that, it was the most unbelievable rallying cry among those guys to know they were doing this for Sean," Williams said.
“It makes me kind of tear up right now just remembering how emotional that moment was. I couldn’t talk. I was so choked up, again really hard to believe," voice of the Redskins Larry Michael said about the day. "At that point it was hard to believe that all of this had happened. It was just so tragic, it was just so tragic that he was gone. And the fans were just, just devastated.”
Stepping foot on the field that Taylor used to shine on, December 2, 2007, was not an easy day for the Redskins. But as sports so often do, football helped aid Washington during the grieving process. Though painful, that game allowed his teammates and friends to pay tribute to a member of their family and show that even though he was no longer on the field with them, his presence would be felt forever.
There only was, and will ever be, one Sean Taylor.
“This was visible evidence of what he meant to all of us and that nobody will ever be able to replace him on the field," Williams said.
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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