For some, scene at Redskins game too reminiscent of past tragedies

Young fans struggle with emotions of losing a sports hero for 1st time

December 03, 2007

LANDOVER — LANDOVER-- --If you're old enough, the scene at FedEx Field yesterday brought back memories of tragedies past, sports and otherwise. So as they made their way toward the Washington Redskins' first game since the killing of Sean Taylor, fans in their 30s, 40s and beyond recalled how similarly shocking and sickening the feeling had been more than 21 years earlier when they awoke to the news of Len Bias' death.

Many of those fans were on their way to, or already in front of, the memorial to Taylor near the entrance to the team's stadium apparel store. Anyone unfortunate enough to have covered the aftermath of the massacre at Columbine High School in 1999 could not help but have a flashback upon seeing the tent, the sea of flowers, balloons, posters, teddy bears and other mementos, and the sorrowful people gazing on it all, still numb from the shock of the past week.

Then, inside the stadium about 20 minutes before kickoff of the game against the Buffalo Bills, came the video tribute, the funereal version of "Hail to the Redskins" by the marching band, the moment of silence and the sporadic bursts of cheers from the emotional crowd of 85,831. Transplant that scene to any number of locations - for example, Yankee Stadium in 1979 the day after Thurman Munson was killed in a plane crash.

You have to be old enough to make those connections, though.

Those who are too young, however, now have a memory of their own. They said so yesterday, have felt it all week, showed everybody, shared it with their peers and will have a story to tell others when they're grown and something like this happens to another generation's hero.

"I've never really been through anything like this," said Casey Feffer, a lanky 15-year-old boy in braces from Northwest Washington, who wore a T-shirt he made himself to honor Taylor. "After he got shot, it really didn't settle in. It didn't seem real.

"This came so unexpected," he said. "Sean Taylor was really a special player. We grew up watching him. We watched him go through his hard times and were seeing him come out of it. He was a great player, and was becoming a great man."

The personal tributes spanned elaborate designs like Feffer's silk-screened photo montage ("Gone But Not Forgotten") to Taylor's jersey number, 21, drawn on their faces or attached by masking tape to their jackets, to signs waved all over the stadium.

Joe and Teresa Quinn, season-ticket holders from Silver Spring, brought a poster: "Our Loss is Monumental," with a drawing of the Capitol. They also brought Joe's 14-year-old daughter, Jeannie, for the first time. They had planned for her to come there long before Taylor's death, but now it carried even more importance.

Jeannie also had never experienced an idol of hers dying young.

"When I woke up for school, my dad told me," she said of the day Taylor died, "but I really didn't take it in. But when I got to school, everybody was saying, `Oh, my God, I can't believe it.' I mean, everybody was talking about it."

Nearby, Anthony and Cheron Ellison, season-ticket holders from Fort Washington, walked toward the memorial, sporting more self-made Taylor tribute T-shirts. With them was their daughter, Lakeisha Hopkins, 23, also at her first Redskins game, and also a huge Taylor fan.

"I wanted to go to this game before [Taylor was killed]," Hopkins said. "This is the only game I wanted to go to [this season], and now he's not here." She lowered her head. "Now I'll never get to see him play."

Everyone, whether longtime fans who have gone through pain like this, or newcomers feeling some of their innocence disappear, was immune to the nationwide rash of callousness unleashed upon Taylor's death. They had enough respect for his memory and the meaning he had to them to make up for the utter disrespect shown him by others.

Once the game started, they couldn't keep their emotions in check and tried to fuse their energy with that of the players Taylor left behind, hoping to funnel it into a victory.

They couldn't. The Redskins lost, 17-16, thanks to as bizarre an ending as anyone had ever seen. That, too, will be part of the story of this experience - the one the younger generation will carry on and, someday, link to the next one when another heart-wrenching, inexplicable tragedy strikes.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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