The role of safety in football is part protector and part hammer.
He has to ensure pass catchers don’t make big plays and also intimidate them by distributing big hits.
The more he does of this, the less opposing offenses will challenge him.
Sean Taylor personified these traits and then some.
Who was the coolest football player on the face of the earth when you were a kid?
Mine was Sean Taylor. pic.twitter.com/lddgOtKwyK
— Coach Dan Casey (@CoachDanCasey) July 6, 2022
After establishing himself as a world-class defender in college, Taylor took his talents to the NFL.
During his career, Taylor could be found regularly tackling ball carriers and shutting down receivers in the secondary.
He was well on his way to becoming one of the greatest safeties in NFL history when tragedy struck.
In the middle of his fourth year as a Washington Redskin, Taylor was shot and killed by intruders during a robbery at his home.
This is the story of Sean Taylor.
Sean Michael Maurice Taylor was born on April 1, 1983, in Florida City, Florida.
He gravitated to the sport of football at a young age and became part of a group of highly talented athletes from the Miami area.
Taylor began playing at Miami Killian Senior High School.
He later transferred to Gulliver Prep School in Miami, where he played football for the Gulliver Prep Raiders.
On April 1st 1983, Sean Taylor was born to Pedro Taylor and Donna Junor in Miami, FL. Being primarily raised by his father, Taylor picked up the game of football and played at Gulliver Prep School. Taylor helped lead them to a State Championship in 2000 pic.twitter.com/VWVnvunX1M
— Dillon (@youngkingdw) January 14, 2021
He played both sides of the ball and made opponents pay the price for challenging him.
The Raiders finished the season 14-1 and won a state championship, and Taylor racked up over 100 tackles on defense and rushed for over 1,300 yards on offense. Remarkably, he also scored 44 touchdowns, which was a state record.
Additionally, he rushed for over 200 yards twice during the playoffs and, in his state title game, Taylor scored three touchdowns.
While at Gulliver Prep, Taylor also played basketball and ran track.
Taylor’s prep career ended with a host of honors including being named the seventh-ranked prospect in Dade County from the Miami Herald and a SuperPrep All-American.
Needless to say, a large number of colleges were interested in Taylor and his skills.
He eventually decided to stay in-state and attend the University of Miami.
Impact Player as a ‘Cane
By the time Taylor arrived at the “U,” the Hurricanes had already established a program known for entertainment and winning.
In 2001, Larry Coker took over for the recently departed Butch Davis and inherited a well-stocked team.
Although the competition was fierce, Taylor was one of a handful of true freshmen who saw the field that season.
He primarily played on special teams and had 26 tackles (20 solo) for the season.
Taylor also received playing time that year in nickel and dime coverage packages.
His contributions helped Miami win their fifth national title with a perfect 12-0 record.
In his sophomore season of 2002, Taylor replaced Ed Reed who left for the NFL.
That year, he became a household name as he had 87 total tackles, four interceptions, and blocked a kick.
My first memory of Sean Taylor was after I finished my own college football game and this hit was all over @SportsCenter. I can’t believe it’s been ten years since his death. pic.twitter.com/Hea08GgkuL
— Darren M. Haynes (@DarrenMHaynes) November 27, 2017
Taylor led all of Miami’s DBs in interceptions, passes defended, and tackles.
After the ‘Canes ended the ‘02 season 12-1, they played Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
During the contest, Taylor had 11 total tackles and two picks in the 31-24 loss that took two overtimes to complete.
At one point, Taylor intercepted an Ohio State pass in the end zone and began returning the pick by running out of the end zone.
OSU freshman sensation Maurice Clarett chased Taylor down, stripped the football, and recovered it.
Happy birthday @ReeseClarett13 Maurice Clarett! Youngstown 330 legend. Everyone talking about the #DKMetcalf chasedown had me thinking about this play, made in a national championship, And he got the ball back! And got it back from Sean Taylor! #Buckeyes #OhioState pic.twitter.com/9VnYhn3Xvh
— Filth Bobby AKA TrapezoidB (@manypenny8) October 29, 2020
The heady play by Clarett helped the Buckeyes take a 17-7 lead at halftime.
Despite his gaffe during the Fiesta Bowl, Taylor earned a second-team All-Big East selection.
In 2003, Taylor had firmly established himself as one of the best defensive backs in college football.
That year, he led the nation with 10 interceptions and returned picks for a total of 184 yards which was second-best in program history.
Taylor also took three of his interceptions to the house, which set a new Miami record.
Additionally, Taylor had 57 solo tackles and was named a first-team All-American.
During a game against receiving phenom Larry Fitzgerald and the Pitt Panthers, Taylor helped limit the future NFL All-Pro to just 3 receptions for 26 yards.
Miami would finish the season 11-2 and beat rival Florida State in the Orange Bowl.
Not to be overlooked, Taylor continued to run track in college.
He ran the 100 and 200-meter dashes.
After completing his remarkable 2003 season, Taylor could have returned as a senior in 2004.
He decided instead to forgo his final year and enter the NFL Draft.
5th Overall Pick
Drafting Taylor was a no-brainer for any NFL club and it was universally believed that he would be a top ten pick.
Sure enough, the Redskins drafted Taylor fifth overall in the first round in 2004.
— NFL (@NFL) April 24, 2018
He became one of six Hurricanes players drafted in round one that year.
Taylor signed a six-year contract and then shuffled through various agents until he decided to stick with his original choice, Drew Rosenhaus.
As training camp began at the start of the ‘04 season, Taylor was stuck behind veteran safety Andre Lott.
He eventually overtook the starting spot and had 78 total tackles including three for loss, four interceptions,15 passes defended, and one sack.
Taylor would be voted to the Pro Football Writer’s Association’s All-Rookie Team after the season.
Washington ended the year 6-10 under coach Joe Gibbs, who was in the first year of his second stint with the team.
Taylor Becomes a Pro Bowler
Months after his rookie year ended, Taylor was summoned by police for an investigation of bullets being fired into a stolen vehicle.
For his role in the incident, Taylor was placed on 18 months of probation and ordered to support ten Miami-Dade County schools by speaking about the importance of education and donating $1,000 to each school.
Meanwhile, on the gridiron for the 2005 season, Taylor had two picks, 12 passes defended, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery that was returned 39 yards for a touchdown, one sack, and 72 combined tackles.
This is when Sean Taylor returned a fumble for a touchdown in the last game of the 2005 season to clinch a playoff spot pic.twitter.com/TCQfUvAr
— Matt Healey (@_mattHealey) November 27, 2012
He also got a slap on the wrist from the NFL for a uniform violation after wearing the wrong colored socks in Week 9.
The Redskins rebounded that year with a 10-6 record and Taylor played in his first NFL playoff game—a 17-10 victory over Tampa Bay.
During the game, Taylor had seven total tackles and returned a fumble 51 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter.
Then, in the third quarter, Taylor was ejected by referee Mike Carey for spitting in the face of Buccaneers player Michael Pittman.
Taylor denied the offense but was still fined $17,000 by the league.
It was the second time that Taylor had been accused of spitting in the face of an opponent.
The first incident was during his rookie year when Cincinnati Bengals receiver TJ Houshmandzadeh alleged that Taylor spit at him.
The NFL declined to fine him when no video evidence could be found of the incident.
A week after the Tampa Bay win, Washington’s season ended in a 20-10 loss to Seattle.
In 2006, Taylor started all 16 games for the Redskins and contributed one pick, seven passes defended, three forced fumbles, and a career-high 114 total tackles including one tackle for a loss.
Taylor’s Washington teammates took notice of his propensity for big licks and nicknamed their teammate “Meast” for half man, half beast.
Sean Taylor with a nasty hit 😳pic.twitter.com/6QrOaD4wIi
— AverageSportsPlays (@AverageSptsPlay) February 1, 2016
He was voted to his first Pro Bowl and was one of the few bright spots for a Washington team that fell to 5-11.
As Taylor’s fourth season was about to begin, he was named the hardest-hitting player in the league by Sports Illustrated.
He began the season on fire and through the first nine games of the season was tied for second in the NFL with five interceptions.
Taylor also had nine pass deflections, a forced fumble, and 41 total tackles.
“It’s pretty obvious. I think Sean Taylor’s number deserves to be retired.” – former Redskins receiver Santana Moss
Sean Taylor's career stats:
2x Pro Bowler
Taylor accomplished all of this in only 3 seasons. pic.twitter.com/HQQo1tV8pk
— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) June 30, 2020
Through Week 12, Washington was 5-6 and desperately fighting for a playoff spot.
Then, only hours after the Redskins had played a game in Tampa Bay, tragedy struck.
On November 18, 2007, Taylor’s Miami home was broken into by intruders.
No one was home at the time and Taylor’s mother called the police after she found evidence of the break-in when she was checking on the house.
Just over a week later, a group of four men returned to Taylor’s house and broke in again.
This time, Taylor, his girlfriend, and his infant daughter were home.
Normally, he would have been on the road with the team, but Taylor was sidelined by a knee injury and had stayed home to recover.
When the intruders broke in, Taylor heard a noise and went to investigate.
He encountered the men and one of them shot Taylor in the thigh.
The bullet severed his femoral artery, creating a deadly wound.
On this day 14 years ago, you died defending your family from cowards that broke into your home.
Men still regale each other with stories from your playing days and kids emulate you on the football field.
In death, as in life, you remain OUR hero.
Rest In Peace, Sean Taylor. pic.twitter.com/0hXYtFV1pY
— GO ‘CANES! (@83_87_89_91_01) November 27, 2021
After the intruders left, Taylor’s girlfriend, Jackie Garcia, called the police.
Taylor was then rushed to a hospital and underwent immediate surgery.
He was in a coma following his surgery and the doctors believed that his blood loss led to brain damage.
Additionally, Taylor’s heart stopped beating twice while he was in surgery.
Despite the attempts to save his life, Taylor passed away at 3:30 a.m. on November 27.
On November 30, the four men involved in the home invasion and shooting, Eric Rivera, Charles Wardlow, Venjah Hunte, and Jason Mitchell were arrested. They were charged with a number of crimes related to the invasion.
The alleged shooter, Rivera, had his trial postponed several times before finally appearing in court in late 2013.
Rivera previously confessed to police that he and his fellow intruders thought Taylor was away with the Redskins at the time and that his home would be empty.
Rivera also stated that he shot Taylor after Taylor confronted them at his bedroom door with a machete.
Since the gun was never found, law enforcement officials believe it was stuffed into a sock and thrown into the Florida Everglades.
During the trial, Rivera recanted his original statement and claimed that the police coerced him into making the confession.
— WSVN 7 News (@wsvn) January 23, 2014
He was originally charged with first-degree murder but was ineligible for the death penalty because he was 17 at the time of the killing.
“He (Taylor) lost his life defending and protecting his family,” said Assistant State Attorney Reid Rubin in a closing statement. “They kicked the door in and they shot him and killed him, for no good reason.”
Rivera also addressed Taylor’s family during the trial.
“I live with his death every day. I’m going to have to deal with the consequences,” he said.
Unmoved by his statements, Rivera was sentenced to more than 57 years in a state prison in January of 2014.
Aftermath and Legacy
The announcement of Taylor’s death sent shockwaves through the Redskins organization and across the league.
Random, but I always get chills when I look at these photos from the game following Sean Taylor’s death. The atmosphere there must’ve been so different than what you’re accustomed to at any other football game. pic.twitter.com/ouBg8DbRtG
— Jordan Asri (@wshingtontoday) April 2, 2020
A number 21 decal was placed on the back of all players’ helmets on every NFL team for Week 13.
The Redskins began the first defensive play of their next game versus the Buffalo Bills with only ten men on the field, leaving Taylor’s safety spot open in remembrance.
Taylor was voted to the 2007 Pro Bowl team and he was also named a second-team All-Pro.
Three of his Washington teammates wore number 21 jerseys during the Pro Bowl.
Taylor’s number was eventually retired by the organization.
Since his passing, Taylor has also been honored by becoming one of the 80 Greatest Washington Redskins and being placed in the Commander’s Ring of Fame.
He was inducted into the University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame in 2015.