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Remembering 21: Wise Looks Back

Many of you have asked what it was like for reporters and editors covering the tragedy that befell Sean Taylor, who died one year ago this morning. Mike Wise took a deep breath and remembered those wrenching days.

A year ago, my plane landed at Dulles Airport after I'd covered a game in Tampa. Local ABC sportscaster Greg Tolen, sitting in the same row of the plane, had received a text message about Sean Taylor being shot in his home. We went straight to his car and he drove us to Ashburn.

What began as an all-day vigil -- and then an all-night vigil -- became one of the saddest and most depressing days of my career.

There was none of the ghoulish newsroom humor that often characterizes the hard-boiled world of journalism as everyone tries to cope with covering a tragedy. There was no talk of football or injuries or that week's opponent.

There was just a deep, penetrating sorrow everywhere you went. His loss was obviously felt more deeply by his teammates and friends and coaches, but the tears from grown men lined up outside the team's headquarters is what I remember the most. Driving in or out, they were always there, commiserating over a 24-year-old kid they never met but came to love because of how passionately he played the game.

There were a lot of ideas and theories about what happened and why - and whether Taylor's past had something to do with it. And everybody lined up on differing sides to either be outraged by stereotypes of knucklehead athletes or to make a case that this is what happens to too many young, black, rich kids who still hang around the dangerous environments they grew up in.

I didn't know about all that and I never felt compelled to take either side. Sometimes when we're trying to make a statement about society and sports, we want to look at all the macro and forget about the micro. To me, that was what was lost here.

Sean Taylor was a father to a little girl who had no idea the day of his funeral that she would grow up without a daddy. A bunch of young, directionless kids took a life barely lived, and that life just happened to belong to one of the most feared players in pro football.

Having covered the suicide of Sacramento Kings rookie Ricky Berry in 1989, Bobby Phills' drag-car racing death and having listened to the mother of former NBA player Brian Williams talk about burying both her sons, I have to say none of those stories affected me like Taylor's death.

I had talked to him in the locker room days before and written a particularly difficult column about him the month before, in which he refused to allow me to use a notebook or a tape recorder. He didn't want me poking around his world and could almost be intimidating about it. But after the column appeared, he was also the kid who, while I was talking to one of his teammates and not paying him any mind, chirped with a smile, "Hey, I saw you on TV killing our defensive line yesterday."

I remember writing of the funeral how sad it was that we knew him better in death than in life. I still feel that way today. He lives bigger in memoriam than he did when he was alive. In another decade, Sean Taylor becomes the James Dean or Jim Morrison of the NFL - a great, young talent who was taken much too soon, a doting father who didn't get to see his baby girl grow up.

A year later, that's still pretty damn sad.

By Cindy Boren  |  November 27, 2008; 7:32 AM ET
Categories:  Remembering 21  
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Next: Remembering 21: Santana Moss


Very sad ... I did have one comforting thought though ... its goes like this:

Sean Taylor to Mike Wise: "Hey, I saw you on TV killing our defensive line yesterday. ... but I'll give you a 30 second head start ... RUN!"

Posted by: dcsween | November 27, 2008 7:52 AM | Report abuse

So true. He is bigger now than he is when he was alive. It took him passing for everyone to realize he was superhuman on the field. Like a poster said before, he had more highlights and bone jarring plays than anyone in history over their first 4 years. He was the next Barry Sanders (a human highlight machine) of defense. Ronnie Lott was great, really great but he didn't have the tools that Sean had and Sean was only on the cusp.
People get real emotional b/c we had just seen him breakout out of the immature mold and step into superstar mode, a la Ed Reed and Brian Dawkins. There was no way to go but to the highest plane. He was destined to be one the greatest defensive players ever, I really believe that. He played the game like Butkus, LT, Deacon, Dexter, Ronnie, Singletary, Reggie White...he was nasty and played harder than anyone who stepped on the field with him. He was a boy amongst grown men...The amount I miss him can't be put into 50 page doctorate. Now that's just the football side of it, the human/family side is on another level. Just plain wrong...

Posted by: Hace | November 27, 2008 7:58 AM | Report abuse

Not sure how this will go down, but here you go. The other thing that is tragic, less so but tragic all the same, is the lives of the perpetrators have been even more of a waste. Just boys, not even men - finished. At least ST shone brightly and achieved great things in his short life - those guys did nothing, and now it's game over. I couldn't have had any compassion a year ago, but today it feels just a tragic waste from every angle. Makes me angry about the causes and bigger issues, but that's for another day. Today's just for remembering, and being thankful - appropriate for this day in particular.

Happy Thanksgiving Day to all from the Skins Nation in the UK. Still remembering #21, and HAIL! Have a good day everyone...

(PS anyone know this song? My fiancee from Virginia used to siung as a kid...

A turkey sat on a backyard fence and he sang this sad, sad tune. Thanksgiving day is coming gobble, gobble, gobble,gobble and I know I'll be eaten soon. Gobble, gobble, gobble,gobble,gobble,gobble I would like to run away. Gobble, gobble,gobble,gobble,gobble,gobble I don't like Thanksgiving day!)

Posted by: mikeysuperdons | November 27, 2008 8:08 AM | Report abuse

"I had...written a particularly difficult column about him the month before,"

really? because all we remember is the article you wrote a month AFTER.

and everyone still hates you for it.

Posted by: kenslunch | November 27, 2008 8:37 AM | Report abuse

Ken, not to nitpick, but the article was written at the end of October - about a month before.

Posted by: suzannepdc | November 27, 2008 9:37 AM | Report abuse

That Wise column a month before his death was great. It was the first glimpse of Sean Taylor the person most of us had gotten in years. It was reasonably fair and balanced, and I originally came away liking Sean more.

In fact, looking back at that column, a lot of what was said are the kinds of nice things people say only AFTER you die. It made his death that much more poignant.

As for hating reporters, Wilbon is the one who skewered Sean Taylor in the Post and in the national media. And he was the one who was unrepentant about it (unlike Shapiro).

Posted by: gclyde | November 28, 2008 2:26 AM | Report abuse

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