ASHBURN, Va. -- A little girl changed Sean Taylor's life.
Before the birth of his daughter Jackie, the Washington Redskins safety was nothing but trouble, on and off the football field, an extremely gifted athlete known more for his misdeeds than for any tackle or interception.
Sean Taylor timeline
June 2004: Taylor is fined $25,000 by the league for leaving the NFL's mandatory rookie symposium for a day, before returning for the final session.
July 2004: Taylor signs an $18 million, seven-year contract with the Redskins.
September 2004: Taylor makes his first NFL start in his third game and finishes his rookie season with four interceptions and 89 tackles. He also accumulates hefty fines from the league for uniform violations and illegal hits.
October 2004: Taylor is arrested on charges of driving under the influence and refusing a breathalyzer test after being pulled over at about 2:45 a.m., when a state trooper said Taylor's car was traveling 82 mph in a 55 mph zone. Taylor is held out of the Redskins' next game. He later is cleared of all charges.
January 2005: Taylor finishes fourth in voting for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
June 2005:Taylor is released on bond after being arrested and charged with aggravated assault with a firearm and simple battery, accused of brandishing a gun at a man and repeatedly hitting him; Taylor thought his all-terrain vehicles had been stolen. In June 2006, Taylor reaches a deal with prosecutors in which they agree to drop felony charges against him and he pleads no contest to two misdemeanors and is sentenced to 18 months' probation. The NFL fines him nearly $72,000 in August 2006 -- the equivalent of four 2005 game checks.
January 2006: Taylor is ejected from a playoff game for spitting in the face of Tampa Bay running back Michael Pittman, drawing a $17,000 fine from the league. Earlier in the game, Taylor scores a touchdown on a 51-yard fumble return.
May 2006: Taylor's daughter, Jackie, is born.
October 2007: Taylor collects his fifth interception in the span of four games, moving him into the NFL lead in that category.
November 2007: Taylor leaves a game after injuring his right knee and misses the next two games entirely. The Redskins go 0-3 in those games.
Monday: Away from the Redskins while injured, Taylor is shot at his home in Florida and has emergency surgery for a leg wound.
Tuesday: Taylor dies at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. He was 24.
If he could just clean up his act, the thinking went, he could become one of the best ever to play the game.
Taylor died early Tuesday morning, one day after being shot during a possible robbery at his home in the Miami suburb of Palmetto Bay, a tragic turn for a 24-year-old star who had matured immeasurably since Jackie's birth in May 2006 and, by all accounts, was having the best year of his career and his life.
"It's hard to expect a man to grow up overnight," said Redskins teammate and close friend Clinton Portis, who also played with Taylor at the University of Miami. "But ever since he had his child, it was like a new Sean, and everybody around here knew it. He was always smiling, always happy, always talking about his child."
Teammates and coaches often have portrayed Taylor as misunderstood, and that much was true. A private man with a small inner circle, Taylor became distrustful of reporters and anyone else he didn't know well. He rarely granted interviews, sometimes declining with a smile and a handshake and sometimes with a snarl that said: "Get out of my way."
But, behind the scenes, Taylor was described as personable and smart -- an emerging locker room leader.
"From the first day I met him, from then to now, it's just like night and day," Redskins receiver James Thrash said. "He's really got his head on his shoulders and has been doing really well as far as just being a man. It's been awesome to see that growth."
Taylor starred as a running back and defensive back at Gulliver Preparatory School in Miami. His father, Pedro Taylor, is the police chief of Florida City, Fla.
An All-American at the University of Miami, Taylor was drafted by the Redskins with the fifth overall selection in 2004. Coach Joe Gibbs called it "one of the most researched things" he's ever done, but the problems soon began. Taylor fired his agent, then skipped part of the NFL's mandatory rookie symposium, drawing a $25,000 fine. Driving home late from a party during the season, he was pulled over and charged with drunken driving. The case was dismissed in court, but by then it had become a months-long distraction for the team.
Taylor was also fined at least seven times for late hits, uniform violations and other infractions over his first three seasons, including a $17,000 penalty for spitting in the face of Tampa Bay running back Michael Pittman during a playoff game in January 2006.
Meanwhile, Taylor endured a yearlong legal battle after he was accused in 2005 of brandishing a gun at a man during a fight over allegedly stolen all-terrain vehicles near Taylor's home. He eventually pleaded no contest to two misdemeanors and was sentenced to 18 months' probation.
Taylor said the end of the assault case was like "a gray cloud" being lifted. It was also around the time that Jackie was born, and teammates noticed a change.
"I even talked to Sean about it," left tackle Chris Samuels said. "I said, 'Man, I'm proud of you. You're doing a great job.' And he was like, 'Thanks, man, I'm just focused on my job and staying out of trouble and doing all the right things."'
On the field, Taylor's play was often erratic. Assistant coach Gregg Williams frequently called Taylor the best athlete he's ever coached, but nearly every big play was mitigated by a blown assignment. Taylor missed a number of tackles last seaosn, yet made the Pro Bowl because of his reputation as one of the hardest hitters in the league, one that earned him the nickname "Grim Reaper."
This year, however, Taylor was allowed to play a true free safety position, using his speed and power to chase down passes and crush would-be receivers. His five interceptions tie for the league lead in the NFC, even though he missed the last two games because of a sprained knee. Teammates said he had overhauled his diet this year to include more fruit, fish and vegetables and less red meat.
"I just take this job very seriously," Taylor said in a rare group interview during training camp. "It's almost like, you play a kid's game for a king's ransom. And if you don't take it serious enough, eventually one day you're going to say, 'Oh, I could have done this, I could have done that.'
"So I just say, 'I'm healthy right now, I'm going into my fourth year, and why not do the best that I can?' And that's whatever it is, whether it's eating right or training myself right, whether it's studying harder, whatever I can do to better myself."
His hard work was well-noted.
"He loved football. He felt like that's what he was made to do," Gibbs said. "And I think what I've noticed over the last year and a half ... is he matured. I think his baby had a huge impact on him. There was a real growing up in his life."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved