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Friday, December 18, 2009
Redskins can relate to Bengals' sorrow

By Dan Graziano
ESPN.com

I remember the Redskins being in a state of shock after Sean Taylor's death on Nov. 27, 2007. And I'm sure a lot of those memories came flooding back when players heard the tragic news of Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry's death Thursday morning.

Taylor was away from his teammates at the time of his death because he was recovering from an injury. I think the fact that he hadn't been around his teammates as much as usual made it harder for them to accept what had happened. Because Henry was on injured reserve and wasn't required to be around his teammates all the time, I'm sure they're going through something similar.

Redskins players such as former University of Miami stars Clinton Portis and Santana Moss took it harder than anyone because of the special bond that players from The U enjoy. Moss was having a difficult season and he was almost inconsolable after Taylor's death.

Taylor, 24 at the time of his death, was a more accomplished player than Henry. And he didn't have a particularly troubled past -- as some people portrayed it to be at the time. One of the most important things that former Redskins coach Joe Gibbs did was allow his players time to grieve. He encouraged everyone to talk about Taylor. I recall hearing that safeties coach Steve Jackson could barely make it through team meetings. But all the tears from the coaches definitely brought the team closer together.

After a last-second loss to the Bills, the team flew to attend Taylor's funeral. Todd Collins had become the quarterback because of an injury to Jason Campbell. The Redskins went on an improbable winning streak and somehow made the playoffs. I know they used their pain and their love for Taylor to drive them during those weeks. I always think it seems trite, and even downright insensitive, when we immediately start talking about how teams are going to rally around a tragic situation. I don't look it at that way. But I do think the Redskins played with more passion the rest of the way in order to honor their fallen teammate.

It was one of Gibbs' finest moments in a Hall of Fame career. He let players see him grieving -- and that was important. It let them know that it was OK to open up to each other and put a voice to what they were feeling. With the death of Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's wife, Vikki, and now this tragedy, the Bengals are a team that has seen a ridiculous amount of adversity. I think this is a group that performs at a high level no matter what the circumstances.

But I do think that the Bengals will face a lot of things this week and next that are nearly impossible to prepare for. I think coach Marvin Lewis would be wise to give Gibbs a call. He's one of the few coaches out there who could relate to how Lewis is feeling right now.