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Last Updated: Monday, 3 December 2007, 10:31 GMT
Fans and players pay tribute to NFL star
By Toby Brown
BBC News, Landover, Maryland

Fans hold up a poster in honour of Sean Taylor
Sean Taylor was said to be one of the hardest hitters in the league
As fans gathered at Fedex Field, the home of the Washington Redskins, much of the talk was of the case against four men being held by police on suspicion of involvement in the murder of the team's star player, Sean Taylor.

The 24-year-old defensive player died after being shot by intruders in his Florida home last Monday. Detectives have said Taylor was killed in what appeared to have been a robbery that went wrong.

In front of the stadium, the club had painted a large "21" in honour of the jersey worn by Taylor, but in the car parks, where hardy supporters congregate ahead of each match for "tailgating" parties, fans paid their own tributes.

Cars painted with the number 21 were cheered, as were shuttle buses marked with the destination "Sean" instead of "Fedex stadium".

Redskins fans stand outside Fedex Field
Redskins fans remembered the dead player outside Fedex Field

"We're tailgating in memory of Sean Taylor," said Chip Crawford while barbecuing huge plates of meat and handing out beers.

"You'll see plenty of '21' jerseys here in honour of Sean."

The drinks flowed in the cold but dry air and the conversation moved on from the criminal investigation to memories of the player.

What was his best tackle? Which was his best block and run? Among the faithful of Fedex Field there was little doubt he had the potential to be the best safety of all time.

'Special guy'

Many wanted to talk about the man himself.

"He was a special guy, he loved the fans," said John from Richmond, Virginia, his homemade placard festooned with newspaper photos of Taylor in action.

Dode Mitchell
People who were ready to give up on this season have been brought together with the team
Dode Mitchell

Dode Mitchell of Denton, Maryland, said the death would bring the Redskins closer together and show the character of the fans.

"People who were ready to give up on this season have been brought together with the team," he said.

The tailgate parties broke up early as most fans moved into the stadium to watch the official tribute to Taylor.

They watched as a video was shown covering the highlights of Taylor's tragically short career.

The moment's silence was broken by occasional shouts of "We love you Sean" before the 85,000 crowd burst into a massive standing ovation, waving thousands of white towels with the number 21 on them, given to the fans by the club.

Team-mates

But the most breathtaking tribute came as the game was just a few minutes old.

As the Buffalo Bills took possession for the first time the Redskins' defensive team took to the field. They huddled together before forming up against the Bills' offensive line.

Clinton Portis raises his jersey to reveal a shirt bearing the words "In memory of Sean Taylor" after scoring the only touchdown of the game
Clinton Portis paid tribute to his friend after scoring a touchdown

"There are only 10 of them," said one fan.

"They're a man down," said another.

Despite being driven back 15 yards, the white towels were again waved in honour of the missing player.

As his replacement ran onto the field for the second play the fans were still amazed at the gesture - no-one could remember having seen a team voluntarily concede a player.

As the game wore on and the rain fell, other players paid their own tributes.

After scoring the only touchdown of the game, Clinton Portis raised his jersey to reveal a shirt bearing the words "In memory of Sean Taylor".

The two men were team-mates at the University of Miami.

Disconsolate

Despite the best efforts of Portis and the team the Redskins were unable to pull clear of a dogged opposition.

An upset Redskins fan
Redskins fans left the stadium in a sombre mood after the game

Then, in the final seconds, a mistake by the coaching staff gifted the Bills an easy kick for victory.

The final score was Bills 17, Redskins 16.

As the crowds left the stadium the weather seemed to match their mood.

"It's a shame about the result," said Michelle Pearl, who had travelled with her friends from Fredericksburg, Virginia, each with the number 21 painted on their right cheeks.

"But the tributes to Sean were great, especially the white towels."

"Yeah," agreed one of her friends as she watched the rain get heavier outside the stadium, "looks like we're going to need them as well."

SEE ALSO
Washington pay tribute to Taylor
02 Dec 07 |  American Football
Four men arrested over NFL murder
01 Dec 07 |  Americas
NFL star dies from bullet wound
27 Nov 07 |  Americas
Guide to the basics of American football
26 Oct 07 |  American Football
Guide to the positions of American football
26 Oct 07 |  American Football

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