Band of brothers: Past and present 'Canes grieving for Taylor

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Dozens of former and current University of Miami players will sit together at Sean Taylor 's funeral Monday, only a few feet from the family section.

A few will be Taylor's closest friends and confidants. Others barely knew him. Yet each shares a palpable closeness to Taylor, a bond forged from being part of Miami's tradition-rich and proud football program.

For decades, the Miami Hurricanes have lived the same mantra: Once a 'Cane, always a 'Cane. It's a close-knit family that grows together and celebrates together and - too often - grieves together.

"We're like brothers," said Frank Gore, a former Miami teammate of Taylor's and now a running back for the NFL's San Francisco 49ers. "It's tough, you know. It's like losing my brother."

Taylor, the 24-year-old Washington Redskins' safety died Tuesday, one day after being shot in what police believe was a botched burglary at his South Florida home. Four people have been arrested and charged in connection with the killing, which sent shock waves through the football core of 'The U.'

"Everybody knows it's a family-type situation at the University of Miami," Hurricanes coach Randy Shannon said. "Once you're a 'Cane, you're always going to be a 'Cane. It's been that way since I was a player. It's always going to be that way. Guys who played with Sean, guys who didn't play with Sean, they'll be here to support the family."

When news broke that Taylor was shot, that football family reacted quickly.

Santana Moss, Taylor's teammate with the Hurricanes and Redskins, furiously began text-messaging every Miami player whose number he had. He wasn't alone. Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Bryant McKinnie got 26 texts from former Hurricane teammates. Current 'Canes quickly began calling one another, some juggling two phones.

"We're all so close, from the University of Miami to here," Moss said. "Sean had a lot of friends who have been devastated by his leaving us."

Many Hurricanes currently in the NFL will play Sunday with Taylor's No. 21 on their helmets, then fly south to say goodbye. Indianapolis wide receiver Reggie Wayne never played with Taylor at Miami, but he commandeered Colts' owner Jim Irsay's private jet to make the trip.

To Wayne, it's absolutely that important to get home.

"It's still kind of hard for me to actually grasp onto this, that this is actually happening," said Seattle Seahawks defensive back Kelly Jennings, who graduated from Miami two years ago. "But it's just something ... in daily life, things happen you have to deal with."

At Miami, the 'Canes family has to deal with it more often than any family should.

Last year, defensive lineman Bryan Pata was killed outside his off-campus apartment with only a few games left in his senior season. A year earlier, former wide receiver Stanley Shakespeare - a member of the 1983 national championship team - drowned in a boating mishap.

Al Blades, Chris Campbell and Jerome Brown all were notable former players who died in car crashes in recent years. Marlin Barnes was murdered in 1996. Robert Woodus died in a plane crash a few years before that.

Nonetheless, it's never easy to deal with.

"When something like this happens, it kind of hits you," said an emotional Roscoe Parrish, the Buffalo Bills' wide receiver who was in Taylor's class at Miami. "You don't really know what to do because it's unexpected. There's shock and sadness."

Every time something like this happens, segments of the Miami family pull together because that's what families do.

And that's what they'll do this time, too.

"I think it's part of the culture at the University of Miami, the one players grow into and grow up in, that bond," former Miami coach Larry Coker said. "It's been that way for a number of years. Why it's that way, why it's different here, I don't know - but it is."

The bond is a real one, not just spoken.

Many Miami players have grown up in South Florida and still call it home. The Hurricanes' weight room during the offseason can look like a Pro Bowl locker room, with some of football's elite working out together and getting ready for another year.

"When you're a 'Cane, you're a 'Cane forever," said former Miami quarterback Kyle Wright, whose senior season ended last month. "That means something. That means a lot."

It's not just an offseason thing, either.

On the sideline at any Miami game, home or away, it's not uncommon to see at least a dozen alumni players standing a few feet from the bench. After one game this year at the Orange Bowl, former Miami defensive tackle Russell Maryland - a No. 1 overall pick in 1991 - was serving as the team's de facto water boy.

That simply doesn't happen everywhere.

Because the Hurricanes' on-campus arena is unavailable, Taylor's funeral will be at Florida International University, about 8 miles from Miami's campus.

The family ties reach there, too.

FIU athletic director Pete Garcia was Miami's football recruiting coordinator when Taylor was a sophomore at Miami's Gulliver Prep. He's known Taylor and his family ever since and still acknowledges "there's something special" about Miami.

"We're all family. We're all hurt by this," said Derrick Morse, whose career as a Miami offensive lineman ended last month. "It's good knowing other guys feel the same way. We're all real close, we all build relationships while we're here. And whether you played with Sean or not, somehow, everyone who's ever played at Miami is linked to him."

AP Sports Writers Greg Beacham in San Francisco, Dave Campbell and Jon Krawczynski in Minnesota, Joseph White in Ashburn, Va., Tom Canavan in East Rutherford, N.J., Gregg Bell in Seattle, Jaime Aron in Dallas and John Wawrow in Buffalo, N.Y. contributed to this report.

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