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NFL's newest dark cloud

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports

For the NFL, 2007 has been a year of tragedy and scandal, ugliness and senselessness, each month seeming to bring worse stories of off-field trouble that stand in stark contrast with an on-field product that is running on all cylinders.

The latest, and hopefully last, came Monday when the Washington Redskins' Sean Taylor was gunned down during a home invasion. He died Tuesday.

It was brutal and sad, the snuffing out of a talented and promising life made even worse by the realization that he is the fourth active NFL player to die this year alone. Combine that with high-profile legal issues, major injuries to current players and a bitter pension fight involving former ones and you have a year to forget.

Things are so bad, the depths so low, the pain so real, it's overshadowed a season that, on the field at least, should be one to remember.

The Indianapolis Colts, featuring the popular Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy, finally won the Super Bowl. The New England Patriots have emerged as perhaps the greatest team of all time this season, chasing both a perfect team record and a book full of individual marks. Big fan base franchises such as the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers are having great years while a number of other franchises have been rejuvenated.

The league has not just an array of great young talent (Adrian Peterson, et al) but a rebirth of some older ones (Brett Favre, Terrell Owens, Randy Moss). When the Colts and Patriots met earlier this month, it was the latest matchup of unbeaten teams since the 1970 merger. The game then actually lived up the hype.

So too, perhaps, will the rare late season matchup of one-loss teams, the Cowboys and Packers, Thursday.

That is, if anyone even remembers to watch.

The thing is: as great as the action has been, as great as the story lines have played out, as perfect as heroes and villains have taken their roles, '07 has been a disaster in every other measurable way. One horrible tale replacing another.

Taylor's murder this week was an all-too familiar one.

The year started bad when, during the early morning hours of Jan. 1, the Denver Broncos' Darrent Williams was shot and killed by a passing gunman while riding in a limo after an altercation at a local nightclub.

Less than two months later, Broncos running back Damien Nash collapsed and died after playing a charity basketball game in his hometown of St. Louis.

In March, the Patriots' Marquise Hill accidentally drowned after falling off his jet ski in his native Louisiana.

All four men were just 24.

The offseason was also plagued with high-profile legal trouble. It started with the Tennessee Titans cornerback Pacman Jones' involvement in a gentlemen's club shooting in Las Vegas that left a bouncer paralyzed.

Then the Atlanta Falcons' Michael Vick, the league's highest paid and one of its highest-profile players, was arrested in connection with a dog-fighting ring on property he owned in rural Virginia. Vick pled guilty and is serving time in advance of his sentencing in early December.

Even O.J. Simpson is in trouble again.

Meanwhile, former NFL players continued to fight the league for improved pension and health benefits while spinning terrible tales of woe and making the NFLPA look like a heartless organization. It helped draw attention to the massive physical injuries, particularly concussions, which NFL players deal with after their playing days.

That hit home on the league's opening weekend when the Buffalo Bills' Kevin Everett suffered a severe spinal injury on a simple kickoff play. At least there is some bright light here. Everett is out of the hospital and doctors believe he may even walk again one day.

You can't blame the NFL for wondering what possibly could be next?

There is no simple conclusion to draw here. Each situation is different, each tragedy its own. But sometimes bad things seem to come in waves and the NFL is certainly dealing with that now.

If the league was just about football, then the worst thing to happen all year was the Patriots' "Spygate" scandal, which, in truth, just helped create more interest and excitement for the product on the field.

That's the kind of controversy that professional sports like.

Not endless funerals, court proceedings and Congressional hearings.

Not superstars behind bars. Not all these 24-year-olds gone forever.

The people to remember in thoughts and prayers are the families and friends of those dealing with death and injury, with life-altering moments that they had nothing to do with and almost certainly can't make sense of.

Roger Goodell would be the first to tell you that, the first to tell you to think of those folks.

But here in 2007, in the new commissioner's first full year on the job, it's OK to acknowledge all that has been thrown at him and his NFL.

And then hope we never see another year like it.