It is impossible to know what the Cincinnati Bengals are feeling today after the horrible news that 26-year-old wide receiver Chris Henry died early this morning. Of the players in the Patriots locker room, Shawn Springs can come closest to understanding.
In late November two years ago, Springs played for the Washington Redskins when safety Sean Taylor was murdered in his home in Florida. Springs had been Taylor’s teammate for four seasons.
“I don’t know how they’re going to respond,” Springs said. “But I know when I was in Washington, with the death of Sean, I think it brought us closer together. At that time, we were actually struggling. I think it brought us closer together. I think everybody, we started appreciating each other more. When we play a sport, sometimes we take it for granted how lucky we are, how fortunate we are to be in the position we’re in. Guys started saying, ‘I love you, man.’ The whole organization came together and kept fighting.”
Four days after Taylor passed away, the Redskins played the Buffalo Bills. On the first play of the game, the Redskins defense took the field with 10 players.
“We left a space open for Sean,” Springs said. “That was unbelievable. Coach Gregg Williams decided to do that. As an organization we came together. Mr. Snyder flew the whole organization down to Miami to his funeral. It was one of the classiest moves I’ve ever seen. I think it changed the whole season.”
The Redskins lost to at home to Buffalo on a gut-wrenching, last-second field goal. But then they won their final four games and made the playoffs. Coach Joe Gibbs, a deeply religious man, did not hide his belief that Taylor helped the Redskins.
“One of the biggest things that helped is that Coach Gibbs is a very spiritual man,” Springs said. “He put it in an aspect that we’re all here to provide a service and a reason. All our days numbered. He brought in his family. We just became a tighter group. I don’t know how Cincinnati has handled it. That’s how we handled it.”
Springs thinks of Taylor often. On Sunday, when explaining the effect Wes Welker has on a team, Springs called him a “Sean Taylor-type” of player.
“That’s always going to be a special place in my heart,” Springs said. “That guy, for me in my personal experiences, whenever I thought that things were tough in my life, I just reflect back on Sean’s situation or the situation with my dad.”
Springs had watched Taylor grow up, from a player with a “bad-guy reputation” to a doting father of his little girl. Henry’s life had played out in the same manner in Cincinnati, which makes today’s news all the more tragic.
Jeff Rowe, a quarterback on the Patriots practice squad, knew Henry from his time with the Bengals. In 2007, he spent his rookie year in Cincinnati.
“He was working really hard to change his life,” Rowe said. “Probably the saddest part is, he was such a great guy. I know everyone there absolutely loved him. He’s the guy to be around. He was so kind, such a nice person. So easy to talk to. Just wonderful.
“He was incredibly talented. His potential was unbelievable. It sucks.”