Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Honoring Sean Taylor at the Pro Bowl

From Fox Sports:

Players get final chance to honor Taylor
by Alex Marvez
Updated: February 11, 2008, 12:58 AM EST HONOLULU

Three Washington players entered Sunday's Pro Bowl wearing No. 21 jerseys as homage to late teammate Sean Taylor.

They left Aloha Stadium knowing a new head coach named Saturday will be leading the Redskins upon their return home. In between, the trio played in a 42-30 NFC victory over the AFC.

That convergence of past, present and future events made the Pro Bowl experience unique for tight end Chris Cooley, left tackle Chris Samuels and long snapper Ethan Albright.

"Life goes on and things happen fast, especially in this business," Albright said. "It doesn't change the fact Sean will be remembered, but time does heal wounds. The further out you get from (Taylor's death), the more you accept it.

"But every day you go in the (Redskins) locker room, his locker is going to be there just like he left it. Everybody that comes in is going to know about Sean Taylor."

Taylor's presence couldn't be missed Sunday. Redskins players were designated the NFC's captains for the pre-game coin toss. The NFC then opened defensively with just 10 players. Washington did the same in its first game after Taylor was killed in late November following a botched robbery at his South Florida home.

NFC (and Green Bay) coach Mike McCarthy suggested the gesture, which was overwhelmingly welcomed by Taylor's peers. Taylor became the first player voted posthumously to the Pro Bowl in December.

"Knowing he's still in our heart, it was a big deal for all the players," said Minnesota's Darren Sharper, who was the lone safety on the NFC's first defensive snap. "We wanted to play hard for Sean."

When a Taylor tribute began airing on the stadium video screen late in the first half, Dallas tight end Jason Witten grabbed Cooley's arm and pointed it out. The duo spoke briefly and watched together as P. Diddy's "I'll Be Missing You" blared over the public address system.

"I told Chris, 'He was a special guy, wasn't he?'" Witten said. "Chris said he was."

Players traditionally swap team clothing during Pro Bowl week. Taylor had so much respect among them that Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck noted "there was probably more Redskins gear being worn than normal."

"I liked talking to Chris and the Redskins guys this week just to understand what (Taylor) was really like," Witten said. "I knew what a great player he was, but I found out he was an even better guy."

After almost breaking into tears during the video montage, Cooley took the field and scored on a 17-yard Hasselbeck pass.

Eerie — just like when Washington defeated Dallas by the same point total as Taylor's jersey number to clinch a playoff berth in the regular-season finale.

"Sometimes things just happen and you don't know the reason," Hasselbeck said. "He just happened to be the guy open on that play."

That touchdown wasn't the only time Hasselbeck and Cooley connected at the Pro Bowl. The two went to dinner Tuesday night so Cooley could pick Hasselbeck's brain about Jim Zorn, Seattle's quarterbacks coach the past seven seasons.

Four days later, Zorn was promoted to Redskins head coach after recently being hired as offensive coordinator. Cooley is admittedly glad that the "musical chairs of head coach interviews are over" after the Redskins met with eight other candidates considered to replace the retired Joe Gibbs.

"I was initially a little surprised (about Zorn), but it is the Redskins," said Cooley, referring to team owner Dan Snyder's history of making unconventional coaching hires. "We kind of sat back and waited to see what happened with no real expectations.

"It's hard to not have anything solid there. We were ready for it to be done. No one really expected Coach Gibbs to leave. It's been an interesting month, but I'm happy we got our guy."

At the Pro Bowl, the focus was on a guy who wasn't there. Samuels remembers seeing Taylor level Buffalo's Brian Moorman on a fake punt during last year's Pro Bowl.

Yes, even punters weren't off-limits to Taylor.

Samuels said he and other Redskins players tried to bring that same intensity to what is essentially a glorified exhibition game.

"We wanted to represent Sean the way he would have played the game," Samuels said. "I think about Sean every day. I also pray for his family."

Samuels' girlfriend is compiling a scrapbook of Pro Bowl events as a memento for Taylor's girlfriend and their infant daughter. Samuels, though, also knows the Redskins must close the book on a season that saw Washington rally for a playoff berth by winning four of five games after Taylor's death.

"We buried Sean a while ago," Samuels said. "We have to put him to rest. We'll still think about him from time to time, of course. But now we have a new head coach. We're going to play for this guy like if it were Coach Gibbs there.

"Hopefully, we'll carry some of that (2007) momentum over. But it's a new season, We can't live off the past. We've got to go out and start all over again."

For three Redskins, that process began Sunday.

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