- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Redskins believe it is fitting that they defeated the Cowboys by 21 points, because 21 was the jersey number of the late Sean Taylor.

And the Redskins’ four-game winning streak that resulted in a playoff berth was fashioned in honor of Taylor, if not received his assistance from high above.

Or so it is said.

Members of the media embrace the death-as-motivation story line, as if no one close to them ever has passed away or come to a foul end because of the criminal element.

For whatever reasons, death that strikes a sports team — and death strikes all human-inspired institutions — is somehow reduced to wins and losses.

The Redskins undoubtedly feel the loss of their friend and teammate, and it is perfectly understandable to hear them drop his name during their rise to relevancy. But Taylor’s role in the ascent of the Redskins is overstated.

Red Auerbach passed away before the 2006-07 NBA season, and if anyone would have tried to will a team to a championship from the heavens, it would have been Auerbach, who was connected to his beloved Celtics in various capacities for 57 years.

And yet we know how it went down for the Celtics. They limped to a 24-58 record and even committed the unprofessional sin of tanking games late in the season to improve their lottery prospects.

Auerbach could not help there, either. The Celtics ended up with the No. 5 pick overall — far removed from the Greg Oden-Kevin Durant sweepstakes — and settled on Jeff Green, who was shipped to the Sonics in exchange for Ray Allen.

Members of the media know better. They just cannot help themselves. To be fair, I have never heard one of them say, “I have been cranking out great stuff ever since my mother passed away unexpectedly several weeks ago.”

Mark Moseley and his family have lived with a nightmare since 1979, when John Paul Penry raped and murdered the 22-year-old sister of the former placekicker.

I have discussed this awful case with Moseley in the past, and he has made it clear that he and the family just want the killer of Pamela Moseley Carpenter to be executed, the question of his mental capacity be darned.

In effect, the Moseley and Carpenter families have suffered twice — first at the hands of the killer and now a justice system unable to determine if Penry is as intellectually limited as portrayed or merely a great actor.

I never heard Moseley, the greatest placekicker in Redskins history, use the murder of his sister as sustenance in a game, the awfulness of it too emotionally scarring to be almost trivialized in that manner.

Perhaps what has stoked the emergence of the Redskins is not the shocking murder of a teammate but the cool and efficient play of backup quarterback Todd Collins, who has the command of the playbook in a way that neophyte Jason Campbell does not.

In the team’s first game following Taylor’s murder, nothing could help coach Joe Gibbs with a timeout rule that led to a 15-yard penalty and a field goal in the final seconds that resulted in the Redskins losing to the Bills. In that tortuous moment, the Redskins looked like the same old team carrying a creative list of ways to lose games since Gibbs I.

Yet the following week against the Bears, after Campbell’s knee crumpled against the weight of the pass rush, the 36-year-old Collins walked onto the field and, suddenly, the Redskins were not this tormented bunch.

They did not need a play at the end of the game to scratch out a victory. That is because, with the steadying influence of Collins, no last-second play was necessary against the Giants, Vikings and Cowboys.

So now the Redskins are off to Seattle, and Taylor will be with them in spirit no doubt, but it will be the actions of the living on the field that will determine the outcome of the game.

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