Some thoughts on the NFL Network's show "A Football Life" about former Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor, who was killed in a burglary attempt at his home in 2007:
The network covered the full Sean Taylor, showing the off-field issues and talking about his personal growth.
He did not trust easily -- something former Redskins defensive coordinator Gregg Williams talked about quite often early in Taylor’s tenure here and said again on the show. Williams, now the DC for the Rams, said he had to earn Taylor's trust by always being honest with him. There was also talk on the show that people would soon get to know more about Taylor. People said they could see a change in his demeanor after his daughter’s birth. He was more respectful when declining to talk. A small, thing, yes. You could engage in a little small talk with him. The PR staff at the time -- and I had conversations with them about this before Taylor’s death -- felt he was close to breaking through in that area.
That said, he always would have cast a wary eye toward the media. Taylor was like that with everyone, and would especially be that way with a group that could cast him in a certain light. He just wanted to play, not become a celebrity. Teammates such as Clinton Portis and Santana Moss not only attended school with him, but, more importantly, understood him.
Regarding the shaving cream pie-in-the-face incident (I was among those talking to Shawn Springs at the time; he was right there), sources told me afterward that Taylor was upset because no one had his back and warned him it was coming.
Taylor felt more comfortable with female reporters. Maybe that stemmed from being a young guy, but after watching the show it was clear he had a special relationship with the females in his life. More trust perhaps? I also remember talking to him once while freelancing for the Associated Press. I talked to him about the point of the article and how it would help to have his point of view. He agreed and gave me five minutes -- and was a terrific interview. After it was over, another reporter came out to try to talk with him. Taylor wouldn’t do it; he said he had agreed to talk to me (we did not have some special relationship, but it was more that he had just given me his word and stuck to it).
As someone who loves the strategy of the game and how players are deployed, watching Taylor was amazing -- and it would have been even more fun to watch now that the All-22 film is available. "The time and distance he could cover was amazing," Williams said in the show. Yes, it was. The Skins would align him in the slot on one side and have him drop to the deep half on the other side -- nobody does that.
What a runner he was in high school -- the vision, the quickness. Man.
After his death, I remember talking to players who I thought would say they didn’t really know him, but instead they said how much they had grown to be fond of him. Certainly, some teammates might have felt another way; you can always find someone who doesn’t like another player.
All the talk about Taylor's passion for the game, from then-Redskins coach Joe Gibbs in particular, is exactly what people said before his death. Some guys were just born to play football. The way Taylor practiced set him apart, though I didn’t realize how much extra effort he put into working out -- running home from the facility, 100-yard sprints before practice. He was even more about football than I realized.
He definitely made mistakes on the field early in his career -- some missed tackles, etc. But you could see the growth, and he was a natural in the middle of the field; he was a playmaker. I’ve said this more than a few times, but he was the perfect safety for the modern era of football because of his speed and ability to cover.
Tough to see how deep the emotions remain for those who knew him best, a mourning for who they knew and what he was set to become -- off the field in particular. I don’t think anyone would paint him as some saint, and that shouldn’t happen now. Even Gibbs admitted during the show that after Taylor’s early mishaps, the coaches felt they would have to keep a strong eye on him. It made the show honest.
The best thing you can do after someone dies is not rush to judgment -- that is a lesson for many. It’s easier to believe that someone courted trouble than that it could just be a horrible incident in which one person’s crime was simply being at home and sleeping, with his fiancée and baby.