Former New York Giants safety Landon Collins managed to do something that is not easy when he was introduced by the Washington Redskins Thursday afternoon as their big free agent signing — he managed to make the franchise and its owner, Dan Snyder, seem human.
How? By connecting with the legacy of the late Sean Taylor, the beloved Redskins star safety.
“It’s very emotional to be at a place where my favorite player played, someplace I’ve always dreamed of, ready to put that Redskins uniform on,” Collins said, referring to Taylor as his childhood idol.
That’s not unusual — a generation of football players grew up idolizing Taylor, tragically killed after a break-in at his Miami home in 2007. The first words out of the mouth of the player Collins is replacing, safety D.J. Swearinger, in an introductory Redskins Nation interview in 2017, were about Sean Taylor. But this one was a little different.
The Collins signing — six years, $84 million, with $45 million, mind you, of that guaranteed — appears to be a Snyder-driven move. It’s a high-priced, high-profile early free agency attention-grabber — not the sort of free agent signing the Prince of Darkness, team president Bruce Allen, would make.
There may be an element of sentimental nostalgia to Snyder’s desire to land Collins. The owner may see him as the spiritual heir to Taylor, a fitting replacement, finally for a defensive star whose presence still seems to loom over the organization. Taylor and his legacy certainly seem to haunt Snyder.
Collins, 25, a personable, charismatic player, easily won his Redskins Park press conference when he told the story about how he was moved to tears at a dinner Wednesday night with Snyder after the Redskins owner presented him with a signed, game-worn number 21 Sean Taylor jersey.
It took Collins a few moments to gain his composure before sharing the story. “We were sitting there at dinner last night,” he said. “Mr. Snyder had a box at the table. I asked ‘What’s in the box?’ He said, ‘A gift for you.’ I asked, ‘Can I open it?’ He said ‘No, wait for your mom and your girl here,’ so I said, cool.”
When Collins’ son also asked about the gift. Snyder gave in and told Collins what was in the box and the story behind the jersey. “I can’t tell you the whole story, but it had all the emotion and passion behind it,” Collins said. “It was the story between him and Sean and how he told me he loved him as a son and saw him as everything.
“When he told me it was a game-worn jersey signed by him in the box, I instantly broke down,” Collins said. “He tried to hand me the box, but I couldn’t move. I was shaking. My son actually grabbed the box and started to open the box. I am still crying and emotionally. My son pulls the jersey out of the box, I still can’t touch the jersey, staring at it the whole time. The jersey is on the table everyone is looking at it at quiet. It took me about 30 to 45 minutes to calm down. I couldn’t even eat.”
Then Collins looked at Snyder, sitting in the audience next to Allen, and said, “It was an honor and I really appreciate it, Mr. Snyder, I really do.”
Collins, who wore number 21 during his four seasons with the Giants — three as a Pro Bowl safety — was asked about the chance he could wear Taylor’s jersey. No one has worn number 21 since his death. “I don’t know,” Collins said. “I have to ask Mr. Snyder and we have to talk to his family … I love that burden. I love that passion. I love that on my shoulders. I definitely could carry that.”
This was a banner day at Redskins Park, a celebration of humanity inside the walls of the NFL’s haunted house. Those days are few and far in between, and certainly worth some of the money they are paying Collins. But at some point the tears will dry up, the Sean Taylor stories will have been told over and over again, and it will be time to play football for the Washington Redskins.
When that reality sets in, the tears may flow again.
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