Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Recollections from a year ago

It all started with an innocuous act: checking e-mail.

High in the inbox was a cryptic e-mail. Few details, an ongoing situation.

Somewhere in Miami, Sean Taylor had been shot.

The statement was brief, three sentences. Yet it was the beginning of an unwinding story, one that, a year on now, still stirs emotions throughout the region.

That first day was a blur. Checking for constant updates on the wire, the Washington Post, ESPN, the Miami Herald and SJ all while trying to accomplish a normal day's work.

The tragedy continued into the night as reports surfaced that he was fighting for his life.

I woke up the next morning, wondering what the day would bring.

"Sean Taylor passed away," my wife told me, first thing.

There's a strange duopoly to life as a journalist. My first instinct was to head to work, grab the recorded and head to Ashburn. This was a story that was going to affect a lot of people, even for a county as regionally diverse as the place I work. Unlike few other stories, this one mattered to Giants, Eagles and Cowboys fans, too.

The other side is that we're human, too. It was hard not to feel for the Redskins fans out there, the ones who had such deep emotional investments in the franchise. They were just outside the fence at the entrance to Redskin Park; a makeshift memorial had been set up there.

It was harder not to feel for the players and coaches to whom Taylor was closest. These were people that you sometimes shared a joke with or just chatted with in the course of doing your job; now, they were forced into inexplicable public grief.

The day was windy; I remembered that from seeing a Post video. Two workers came out and hung black bunting around the "Washington Redskins" sign at the front entrance.

The place was packed. I remembered reading about accounts of Pete Rose's final days as Reds manager, just as his gambling habit came to light. When the network news people showed up, one story said, it was never a good situation.

And that's how it felt. The media room at Redskin Park, small for a normal crowd, was SRO. The crowd flowed into the main lobby, where there were 30 or so more people. I counted.

I counted because there was ample time in between the players' availability. There were long periods of frustration - being cooped up with so many other unfamiliar people - punctuated by sheer sadness. Whenever a player came out to speak, their head hung low, they spoke softly and invariably wiped away tears.

It was then, and only then, that the full impact of what happened was felt. These were real people grieving. The facade of invincible NFL players was lifted in a most dramatic and tragic fashion.

Taylor's lockers in Ashburn and Landover remain untouched, encased in glass, a haunting reminder of loss.

A year later, it's still surreal.

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