In death Sean Taylor is more of an icon than if a rogue armed robber hadn’t taken his life 10 years ago—prematurely ending what was shaping up to be a hall of fame NFL career. Had it not been for the tragedy of Len Bias cocaine induced heart attack in 1986 that ended a promising NBA career before it began, Taylor’s passing would’ve been the greatest loss in the history of D.C. sports.
When Bias died innocence was lost but it was a sign of the times. The crack cocaine epidemic had its hold on the D.C. area and no one was immune from the peril. From the newsroom to the mayor’s office, the rock was cooking.
When Taylor died, however, hope was lost. He was blossoming into the game changing player Washington thought they had drafted with the sixth pick in the 2004 draft. His bouts with immaturity and acrimony gave way to leadership on the field and off and just like that he was gone.
“Meast” – half man half beast– as he was known by teammates – was blessed with physical tools that even his peers marveled at. At 6’2” 230 pounds Taylor played free safety linebacker size and was blessed with receiver speed (4.51 seconds in the 40-yard dash). He was Ray Lewis ad Ed Reed in one. Taylor’s could play up near the line and punish running backs like Lewis. In pass coverage Taylor took away the center of the field by daring receivers to venture into his area and pay the price like Reed. He intimidated quarterbacks by forcing them to think twice knowing that a bad decision could lead to a game changing interception.
Though he played only four seasons in Washington Taylor’s evolution as a person off the field coincided with his maturity on it. After blowing off the NFL’s rookie symposium and earning a $25,000 fine before he signed a seven-year $18 million rookie deal Taylor fired his agent. Over the first three years of his career he was fined at least seven times for various uniform infractions and late hits.
Taylor also had brushes with the law. In 2004 he was charged with DUI after being clocked at 82 in a 55-mph zone following a birthday party for receiver Rod Gardner in Fairfax County, Va. In 2005 he was charged with aggravated assault with a firearm (a felony) and misdemeanor battery in Florida. Ultimately, he pleaded down to two misdemeanor charges. The guilty plea led to his inability to own a firearm in a stand your ground state. This was a cruel irony since he died protecting his family from four armed robbers who shot him at his home.
His greatest moment of infamy came during Washington’s 2006 wildcard playoff game at Tampa where his fumble recovery and touchdown led to their victory, but he was ejected for spitting on Bucs running back Michael Pittman. Life changed for Taylor during that offseason. He became a new man after his engagement to Jackie Garcia and the birth of his daughter Jackie. Taylor lost 20 pounds to play faster and when he died led the NFL with five interceptions despite missing four weeks with a knee injury.
Memories of Taylor transcend the new generation of NFL defensive backs and many still wear number 21 to honor him. His jersey remains one of the team’s top sellers and fans still cope with a tragic loss of greatness cut down too soon.