Florida City is a little agricultural burg about as far south as you can go in Miami-Dade County. You drop any farther on the map and you’re probably headed to Key West. That makes Florida City about halfway to paradise, although it hasn’t always felt like that to the town’s police chief.
In Pedro “Pete” Taylor’s office you can’t miss the framed photograph of a Miami Hurricanes safety making a tackle against the Florida Gators, or the red and gold-painted football sent by the Washington Redskins.
Sean Taylor was killed a little over six years ago, at age 24, in a burglary gone terribly wrong. He’d be 30 today, likely still an NFL star. The football writers would be starting to wonder if he had a chance to make the Hall of Fame. He was that good.
The media tends to remember the notable dead only on major anniversaries. This isn’t one. To the loved ones, though, the remembering doesn’t wait for special occasions; it never stops. The pain changes, but it never quite stops, either.
Sean’s daughter was an infant when her father was shot and died the next day. Now she is 7. Pete Taylor still calls her “Baby Jackie,” as if time stopped and froze on Nov. 27, 2007.
Sean was as Miami as you get. Born here, went to Gulliver Prep and starred for the Canes before becoming a first-round draft pick of the Redskins. One night changed all that. Now he is buried near his Palmetto Bay home off Old Cutler Road.
Two months ago Pete sat in a Miami courtroom and heard his son’s convicted killer, Eric Rivera, Jr., sentenced to 57 years in prison. Three others still await trial. It took six years, but justice has finally begun to arrive to play its role in that mysterious and sometimes elusive thing called healing.
Of all the people to lose their son in a violent crime, a police chief! You’re inclined to imagine that would only make it worse, then you realize it already is as awful as it can get.
“There’s never going to be any closure,” Pete Taylor had said just before the sentencing. “I respect the fact that God makes no mistakes. But at the same time, there won’t ever be closure because it’s so big and my heart’s too big. When you lose something that big, it really leaves a pit inside you.”
But, two months later, “It does bring some closure,” Taylor said Wednesday, of the verdict. “This was devastating to both families. The pain of just not being able to talk to your child won’t go away. It’s still hard to even fathom me burying a kid. You should never have to bury a child. But He gave us some great years with Sean. That helps put your mind at rest.”
It was right around the time of the verdict and sentencing that, unexpectedly, Pete would be given another opportunity to continue his healing, to fill that pit. Time heals, maybe counseling helps and the legal system plays its part.
Now it turns out football might, too.
Two months ago the promoter/owner of the fledgling Ultimate Indoor Football League approached Taylor about coaching a new Miami team – about getting back to the sport that was his strongest bond with oldest son.
“Sean would be happy for me,” Pete said Wednesday.
Fittingly the Miami Inferno have arranged to play home games on the UM campus, in the basketball arena, catty-corner to the football practice field where Sean Taylor learned to be a star.
Will the team and league make it? The skeptic in me has serious doubts. The UIFL is a regional semipro league whose brief history has been wrought by instability. The league website as of Wednesday listed only three teams in addition to Miami: In Austin and Corpus Christi, Tex., and in Fort Myers.
And yet the season is scheduled to open for Miami at home on May 25. The team website is www.miamiinferno.com and the first of three open tryouts is scheduled Feb. 22 at Florida City Park.
Pete Taylor is not skeptical, he is excited. He coached Sean in Pop Warner and has coached football into the high-school level but this is bigger. He envisions a grass-roots, community-oriented team.
“Maybe superstars in high school who didn’t have the grades [for college] but did have the ability,” he said. “Or kids that played in college but didn’t have the ability to play in the pros. This is a small step of community bridging. Maybe the players can catch some people’s eyes while playing in front of fans they already know.”
Taylor wants to give second chances. Wants to offer hope.
“I always liked to teach kids,” he said. “Coaching means imparting wisdom to young men, becoming a father figure to them. Right follows right all day long. I want players to be a part of what Sean came through and what it took to get Sean to where he was. They’ll hear it first hand. We can touch lives.”
It isn’t far-fetched that Sean’s example would continue to inspire. It already has, and does.
Newly minted Super Bowl champion Kam Chancellor, the Seattle Seahawks safety, spoke of honing his craft by studying film of Taylor. Hurricanes running back Duke Johnson, 14 when Taylor was shot, so looked up to Sean that he wore his photo inside his helmet along with the words: “When It’s All You Have, It’s No Longer Just A Game.”
Now the father who helped inspire Sean Taylor hopes to keep passing that inspiration forward.