The death of Sean Taylor has affected his family, friends and Redskins teammates, and another subset of the NFL community is grieving as well: Every player in the league who attended the University of Miami, whether or not Taylor was there at the time.
College ties are often on public display during postgame handshakes or out in the parking lot by the visiting team's bus, but the bond maintained by those who played at "The U" is on an entirely different level. Many of these players work out together at their alma mater over the offseason, enduring the taxing regimen set forth by Hurricanes strength and conditioning coach Andreu Swasey, and socialize on a regular basis as well.
"It's like one big family," says Cardinals halfback Edgerrin James, one of the many ex-Hurricanes who attended Taylor's funeral on Monday. "We're all kind of the same – we pride ourselves on being from 'The U,' and we're all intertwined."
Did you see that poignant footage on "Monday Night Football" of the Ravens' three ex-Miami players, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Willis McGahee, huddled closely before the game? Lewis talked about how they had lost someone in the family and that their performance that night would be for Taylor and Taylor only.
Then the three of them went out and played passionate, physical football at an insanely high level – a very public form of grief counseling. In a brutal sport covered in largely superficial terms by reverential chatterboxes, this was one of the more touching things you'll ever see on an NFL-licensed telecast.
Two summers ago at Redskins training camp, I sat with halfback Clinton Portis and wideout Santana Moss and talked about the Miami connection. We were waiting for Taylor to join us, though he never made it out of the locker room before the start of meetings.
"The bond we shared at Miami, it was like no other," Moss said "We went out there and worked like no other team, and when we played, it was fun. And then the things we went out and did after the game, it was a lot of fun. Playing here with guys like Clinton and Sean, I know I can count on them like we're brothers."
Said Portis: "People hate 'The U,' but they love 'The U.' I think other teams want that camaraderie. And NFL teams always want guys from Miami, because they know we're not messing around. Guys like Sean Taylor have that killer instinct. They let us eat gunpowder down there."
Recalling Portis' playful, over-the-top metaphor from that hopeful summer afternoon seems chilling now that Taylor has been gunned down so senselessly, a cherished member of both the Redskins and ex-Hurricanes family gone forever. It was Portis who called James from the hospital last Monday night to tell him that Taylor had showed improvement – and who, along with numerous other ex-Hurricanes, texted him early in the morning to deliver the tragic news.
"All of us were in the loop, getting news from the people who were there," James said. "And when you wake up and see all those texts, from all those people, you don't even have to open the messages. There'd been a death in the family."
Here are this week's trivial-by-comparison questions, with our sincere sympathies to the tight-knit UM/NFL fraternity:
1. New England Patriots: After Monday night, can we agree that it's best of all to be lucky and good?
6. Jacksonville Jaguars: Paul Spicer's conspiracy theories and trash-talk about Peyton Manning are a little tough to take, but can't we all see the wisdom in his statement that Colts president Bill Polian's radio show is "ridiculous"?
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: What does it say about Jon Gruden that he has won games with 12 starting quarterbacks, more than any other active coach?
8. Seattle Seahawks: Shall we now start referring to Mosi Tatupu as "Lofa's Father"?
12. San Diego Chargers Has a less impressive team ever been on the verge of clinching a division title in Week 14?
16. Chicago Bears: When exactly did this team stop stopping the run, and how did it happen so suddenly?
17. New Orleans Saints: Instead of beating himself up for calling that reverse against Tampa Bay, shouldn't Sean Payton be talking comprehensively about how his team got outplayed by the Bucs?
24. Oakland Raiders: Hey, Daunte – think you could beat me in a race to Saskatchewan?
28. St. Louis Rams: How crazy is it that this team, with nothing to play for, is a couple of yards shy of being on a four-game winning streak?
32. Miami Dolphins: This team will play really, really hard in the Buffalo cold on Sunday, don't you think?