LANDOVER, Md. -- The message was perfectly clear:
Sean Taylor is gone forever, and he is not forgotten.
For all of the No. 21 jerseys, twirling white towels and
handwritten signs in the stands Sunday, for all of the
red-and-yellow flowers and burning candles at a makeshift memorial
outside the stadium, for all of the pregame tributes to the Pro
Bowl safety, the most stark reminder of Taylor's plight came when
the Washington Redskins lined up on defense for the first time
since he was killed.
Instead of 11 Redskins on the field, as rules allow, there were
When the visiting Buffalo Bills prepared to run their first play
on offense midway through the opening quarter, the man who replaced
Taylor in Washington's lineup, Reed Doughty, stood near coaches on
"It was important for the team to know that Sean was with us
that one last time on the field," Doughty said. "He'll always be
with us, but that was special."
After watching while Bills running back Fred Jackson gained 22
yards, Doughty entered for the next play -- and made the tackle.
Redskins coach Joe Gibbs wasn't aware ahead of time that players
were going to honor Taylor that way; assistant coach Gregg Williams
said his defensive coaches and unit decided Saturday night to do
"We were going to let him ride with us one more time," said
Williams, who has described Taylor as being like a son to him.
The 24-year-old Taylor died Tuesday, a day after being shot at
his home in Florida during a burglary. The shock has yet to
dissipate for Taylor's teammates and the Redskins' fans, and the
grieving process continued on game day, from the cloudy, chilly
hours before the kickoff until the rain-soaked end of what turned
out to be a 17-16 comeback victory for Buffalo.
"I didn't show up to play this game, I showed up for a tribute
for my friend, to send him out right, and we found a way to mess it
up," said cornerback Fred Smoot, who teared up when he looked
where Taylor usually plays and didn't see him.
Before entering the stadium, some spectators talked about Taylor
in the present tense, as though it all hasn't quite registered.
Many wore Taylor's number -- on burgundy, white or black versions of
the jersey, on handmade T-shirts, on hats, on wristbands. A trio of
teenagers each wrote "RIP #21" on a cheek.
"You look around and see all the '21s,' you see his face on
some of the posters," defensive end Phillip Daniels said. "I
thought of Sean every second."
While tailgating did carry on in the parking lots before the
game -- with beer and grilled food, with chips and salsa -- things
were somewhat more subdued than usual. Stereos didn't blare. People
spoke instead of screamed.
"Oh, yeah, it's quiet," said Adrian Moore of Springfield, Va.,
who was wearing a long-sleeve white shirt with a yellow candle
drawn between the numbers 2 and 1. "It's a lot more somber than
A short walk away, people approached a memorial to Taylor where
the Redskins painted his number on a patch of grass near the team
store -- which was under orders not to sell jerseys or other items
with his name or number this day.
Starting at 7:30 a.m., fans began arriving to look at the
display, snap a photo of it and leave objects. The piles kept
spreading, with flowers in the team colors of burgundy and gold,
leather footballs, dripping candles, and posters with personal
messages. And on and on it went: balloons, teddy bears, hats. One
little child left a piece of paper with a poem.
There were plenty of other ways in which Taylor was saluted, off
the field of play and on.
After scoring the game's only touchdown, Redskins running back
Clinton Portis, also a teammate of Taylor's at the University of
Miami, lifted his jersey to reveal a T-shirt with a message in his
good friend's memory.
After making his first catch, Redskins receiver
Santana Moss --
another college teammate -- pounded his chest and put up a hand with
his thumb and ring finger tucked down and the other three fingers
raised. It was his way of saying, "21."
That number was on patches on the Redskins' jerseys and stickers
on their helmets; the Bills and other NFL teams wore it on their
helmets, too. Redskins owner Dan Snyder had the number on his black
overcoat, and coach Joe Gibbs had it on his burgundy jacket.
"It was a very emotional day for everybody," Bills coach Dick
On a facade above one end zone, there was a new sign with
Taylor's name and uniform number in white writing, with pictures of
black ribbons at each end.
The Redskins Marching Band wore black hats and used instruments
covered with black sleeves while playing a funeral dirge, followed
by a slow, mournful rendition of the team's normally peppy theme
song, "Hail to the Redskins."
After the public address announcer noted that, "We gather here
today shocked and saddened," the scoreboard showed a 4-minute
video filled with photos of Taylor with his 1-year-old daughter and
footage of him playing football. In one of the most poignant
segments, Gibbs, Williams and players spoke into the camera as
though addressing Taylor directly.
After Taylor was shown saying, "My favorite part is when we
have home games and the fans are cheering," the crowd roared and
waved the white hand towels with the No. 21 they were given as they
entered the stadium.
Those tens of thousands of tiny towels swirled around and
around, a silent and moving tribute.