The shrill beep that heralds a text message on my phone roused me from an all-too-brief and fitful slumber at 7:04 this morning:
taylor died … how horrible!
It was the news no one in the NFL wanted to hear, but after the smattering of reports leaking from South Florida over the previous 24 hours regarding Sean Taylor, it was anything but a surprise. When I had told my anesthesiologist girlfriend about the extent and location of his wounds, she seemed amazed that he’d managed to cling to life throughout a day as harrowing as it was sad for his nearest and dearest. Such is the heart of a champion athlete, unbridled until its final beat.
In Denver, it reopens wounds that have healed for some in Broncos Country, but have only begun to scab over for others.
Another death by gunshot.
Maybe I’m wrong, but my brain repeatedly circles around to an idealist’s notion, that all killings at the barrel of a gun are ultimately preventable. It certainly isn’t part of the natural order of things for vibrant, healthy 24-year-olds like Taylor and Darrent Williams to leave the world like this — or for the thousands of others who die in similar fashion, leaving friends and families mired in grief after such senseless extinguishment of life’s glowing flame.
I grasp for answers, but it’s a futile quest. Rational answers just don’t exist, and the mind keeps going in circles. At some times it is unable to focus; at others it is unable to comprehend. At all moments it’s somewhat paralyzed by recollections of New Year’s morning and the days that followed in Denver. Even as I meandered through the morning and afternoon with my parents, spending a little extra time with them before they flew back to Florida, thoughts about the tragedies of the moment and the ones the Broncos endured this year flood my mind.
As I write this, Redskins coach Joe Gibbs is speaking at a press conference. Again, the mind flashes back to those depressing days at the year’s dawn, when Broncos Head Coach Mike Shanahan sat down at a similar gathering and through quivering voice shared his memories of Williams and anguish over his team’s loss. It is as though it is Jan. 1 and 2 all over again.
I go looking for a photo to accompany this piece, and the shots are so hauntingly familiar to the ones to which my eyes bore witness … fans grief-stricken, their faces stained with tears, outside team headquarters … bouquets, balloons and signs abutting the entryways … candles lit in rememberance, in tribute, in silent vow to symbolize keeping the fallen player’s soul and spirit alive. As it was at Dove Valley nearly 11 months ago, so it is today in the hills and woodlands of northern Virginia.
In the midst of my thoughts and recollections, for some reason my mind pauses to wonder:
“Did this kind of stuff happen when I was a kid?”
Somehow, my mind, entangling the randomly woven webs of thought, has the idea that tragedies like the one that befell Taylor are a recent phenomenon, that this sort of thing didn’t happen in what I perceive as “back in the day.”
Then I remember Len Bias and Don Rogers. A No. 2 overall NBA Draft pick and an NFL first-round choice. Both college stars in their respective sports; both with boundless possibilities of life before them; both dead by drugs within nine days of each other in June 1986. With both, I surely felt their passings could have been prevented.
But the circumstances of Taylor’s death, and any societal implications from that and from other deaths, both recent and in the past — don’t matter much right now. Nothing will bring him back, just like nothing could bring Williams back. All you can do is move forward. Certainly, through the Darrent Williams Teen Center and other endeavors, the Broncos have found ways to ensure that his name far outlives the man, and that some blessings can be extricated from such a senseless tragedy. But I think everyone in Broncos Country would rather have Williams around than his name on a building, and I’m certain everyone who follows the Redskins and Hurricanes feels the same of Taylor, no matter what the ‘Skins and University of Miami do to commemorate and sustain the memory of their beloved teammate, safety and friend.
To the Redskins, to Taylor’s family and friends, and to everyone who sheds tears today, I can’t offer much — just my prayers, and those of everyone in Broncos Country who know all too well the sadness, confusion, anger and grief you surely feel today. We mourn with you.