Taylor Bradford, 1986-2007   

Updated: December 28, 2007, 10:36 AM ET

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"I find myself waking up and crying a lot," says Vincent Bradford.

"Just crying and crying and …"

It has been nearly three months since his older brother, University of Memphis defensive lineman Taylor Bradford, was shot and killed in a robbery attempt, and nary an hour passes without Vincent feeling the agony. The heartache.

Such is life when a bullet takes the man who served as your hero, your mentor and -- most important -- your best friend. "Taylor was 33 months older than I am, and all I wanted was to be like him," says Vincent, 19, a freshman quarterback at Kentucky State. "When he did something good, I wanted to do it better. And if he found out I did it better, he wanted to do it more better. This was football, baseball, basketball, chess …"

Chess?

"At Lakeview Elementary School in Nashville, we were on the same chess teams. Years after that, we'd still play around the house. He had his games when he'd beat me, but I had my games, too. It's always big when the younger brother wins.

"We were competitive, but there was always love. That was Taylor. He never met a stranger. He always made the next person feel better. When he was at Memphis and I was at Kentucky State, we'd try to talk at least once every day. Maybe it'd be a long conversation, maybe it'd be a miniature one. We had so much to talk about, but he always -- always -- brought it back to grades. We've both had NFL dreams for a long time, but Taylor knew the importance of school first."

Do you believe he would have played in the NFL?

"Really, I don't know. Maybe, maybe not. He was big [5-foot-11, 260 pounds], but he was also very smart. No matter what, Taylor was going to be a businessman. He had a job offer from FedEx lined up after graduation. He was driven that way -- anxious to take on the different opportunities."

So was he serious?

"Ha! No. He tried so hard to be funny that you'd just laugh at the effort. He had some moments where he had real good jokes and you had moments where you were like, 'What are you talking about?' You'd just scratch your head.

"What would surprise people about my brother was his singing. Boy, did he love to sing. He was this enormous Division I football player and he'd be walking around the house, singing away. He'd go from Luther Vandross to Gerald Levert. He was in the male choir in high school and the gospel choir at the Lee Chapel AME Church.

"He had a decent voice, but it was more about the love he had. He loved singing and being musical. Just loved it."

Vincent Bradford pauses. It is still incredibly difficult. He attends classes, forgets the pain for a moment or two. Then it returns, as torturous as ever. A piece of him has left, and will never return.

"This Christmas season is very hard. Very hard. I'm used to seeing my brother, to hearing his laughter and having him mess with me. I'm used to him doing the things big brothers do to little brothers.

"Now it's an empty house. There's nobody here for me."

Jeff Pearlman is a former Sports Illustrated senior writer. You can reach him at anngold22@gmail.com.


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PAGE 2 TRIBUTES

Page 2 tells the stories of some of those who passed away this year.

TAYLOR BRADFORD, 1986-2007
Taylor Bradford was a defensive lineman for the University of Memphis. He was also a thoughtful, intelligent brother and friend.

ABE COLEMAN, 1905-2007
Abe Coleman was 5-foot-3, 220 pounds and wrestled before a crowd of 60,000. He was one of a kind.

EDDIE FEIGNER, 1925-2007
Softball pitcher Eddie Feigner was more than a traveling sideshow: he may have been the best ever at any craft.

JOHN FERGUSON, 1938-2007
John Ferguson isn't in the Hall of Fame, but the Montreal Canadiens wouldn't have won five Stanley Cups without him.

BUDDY HANCKEN, 1914-2007
Buddy Hancken played just one inning in the major leagues, but he had a lifetime of stories to tell after spending 50 years in pro baseball.

MARQUISE HILL, 1982-2007
Patriots defensive lineman Marquise Hill tried to do what was right, and he had a perspective far beyond his years.

JESSE MARUNDE, 1979-2007
Jesse Marunde was one of the strongest men on the planet. Did he push himself too far?

ISAK RAIN, 1985-2007
Isak Rain was a budding star in the wrestling world, but an auto accident took his life far too soon.

BILL ROBINSON, 1943-2007
Bill Robinson enjoyed a long, productive major league career. He also knew how to take a joke.

VERN RUHLE, 1951-2007
Did he catch it or not? We can't say for certain, but either way, Vern Ruhle is a part of baseball history.