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FROM THIS EPISODE

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

The NFL playoffs kick off this weekend and there is no shortage of compelling stories to follow over the next few weeks. Heck, even hoping the almost too perfect Tom Brady's perfectly coiffed hair might get tousled is something to look forward to. There will be a build toward a fireworks of a match-up between the Cowboys and the Packers, pitting young Dallas quarterback and man-about-town celebrity Tony Romo against old-man icon Packers quarterback and Mississippi good-ol-boy Brett Favre. Will this be the moment for the San Diego Chargers to finally rise to the level of their one-of-a-kind running back LaDainian Tomlinson and give him a chance to shine like the star he is?

But the heart of the playoffs beats within the chests of the Washington Redskins. Their season was pretty much a wash until November 27. That's the day teammate Sean Taylor was slain in his home during a burglary attempt. The team went into shock. The next day, November 28, Sean's father, Pedro Taylor, flew from Florida to Redskins Park and addressed Sean's team. The emotions ran deep. Big, strong men cried like babies. And then came resolve. And pride. And a bond that neither coaches nor the promise of fame and fortune can create. A black drape was hung over the entrance to Redskins Park. It's still there and every Redskin touches its frayed edges as he enters and exits. Sean's two lockers at the Redskins two fields have been sealed in plexiglas. Teammates are never far from the memory of their well-liked and talented safety. A touch of justice came when Sean Taylor was named, posthumously, to the Pro Bowl's NFC team. Only one other athlete has ever made an all-star team posthumously and that was Philadelphia Flyers goalie Pelle Lindbergh, who died in a car accident in 1985.

The Redskins are obviously not a more talented team without Sean Taylor. But his death has inspired that intangible team element when egos disappear and an energy beyond the physical emerges. The Redskins were a losing team pre-November 27. Now they've won four in a row, all with impressive poetry and smooth team machinery. Now they travel to Seattle this weekend, with Sean Taylor always on their minds. They speak of waking up each day to the newly learned lesson that life promises no guarantees. As star receiver Santana Moss puts it, "Take care of business while you got that chance."

On paper, the Redskins could make it past the Seahawks but not the Dallas Cowboys. But these games aren't played on paper and the collective heart of these Redskins just might catapult them into otherworldly territory.

Switching to college football for a moment, the supposed National Championship game between Ohio State and LSU will be played this coming Monday. I'm not interested. Until the college post-season becomes a fair playoff system, the best teams earning their way ON THE FIELD to a final National title game, as is done in all other sports, how can we respect and accept this as a Championship game? Weeks ago, two human polls and six computerized stats systems spat out the names of the two best teams in the country: Ohio State and LSU. They were thrown into the final and not forced to play their way through the other top teams with similar records. What do all these 32 Bowl games over the holidays mean? Absolutely nothing.

Next Monday is also a big day for Marion Jones. A federal judge will make the decision about sentencing Jones for both lying to a federal grand jury about her steroid use and for her involvement in check fraud. Her lawyers have pleaded no jail time for Jones, making the case that her fall from grace has been gripping punishment unto itself. I don't know. I have sympathy for Jones, mostly because I'm convinced the majority of the top guns in her sport have cycled steroids and the like over recent years. But when it comes to breaking the law, is public shame punishment enough?

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.


Photo: Don Wright

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