I’ll begin with the story of Jason and Mandy Taylor.
Not that Jason Taylor. This one’s a 33-year-old Cardinals fan who I met on the sidelines of the Packers-Saints game at Lambeau Field last week. Cardinals president Michael Bidwill introduced Taylor and his wife, Mandy, to me. They were there to take the Cardinals flag hoisted on the field that day back to the Cards’ home opener Sunday.
“You should talk to Jason,” Bidwill said to me. “He is one inspirational story.” I met the Taylors and then spoke to them by phone on Saturday.
Just after midnight on the morning of March 26, Taylor, a speaker and recruiter for a Phoenix college, walked out of a bar in Glendale, not far from the Cardinals stadium, to hail a cab, leaving Mandy inside. Outside, he met two men smoking cigarettes, and he made small talk with them. They were talking about serving in the military. “I always wanted to do that,” Jason said, but life took him on another path. If he ever did serve, he said, he’d have wanted to be a Marine, because he so admired their ideals.
At that moment, one of the men pulled out a pistol and shot Jason Taylor in the head.
Taylor had been standing with the men for 30 seconds, max. The other man in the trio said Taylor’s comment was completely innocent. That’s all he said. For that he was shot in the skull.
The shooter, Jeremiah Pulaski, a 24-year-old Arizona man recently back from Army duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, fled on his motorcycle. Police eventually located Pulaski on his bike, and he died in a firefight with a police officer, who was not hit. Pulaski’s parents told police they believe he was suffering from war-related stress.
Taylor lay on the street, gravely wounded. Mandy heard the pop of the gun and rushed out. “Somehow,” she said, “and it was like an out-of-body experience, but people were rushing inside because of the gunshot, and I went out and saw him, and I had the presence of mind to call 911. Then a couple of people took me back inside because they didn’t want me to see Jason like that.”
Doctors spent three hours removing most of the exploded bullet from Taylor’s brain. “They got most of it,” Mandy said. “They had to replace part of his skull with a sort of bridge, made of silicone and titanium. That was the longest three hours of my life, but they got as much of the bullet as they could.”
For days Jason lay in a coma. They didn’t know when he’d awaken. Finally, about 13 days later, he woke up. A nurse gave him a greaseboard and pen to write, so he could communicate, because he couldn’t speak.
“WHAT HAPPENED?” Taylor wrote.
Mandy told him the whole story. She told him how long he’d been out, and what the doctors did.
Then he asked for board again.
He wrote: “APRIL 15 — DEADLINE FOR CARDINALS TICKETS!”
“He put an exclamation point on it,” said Mandy. “When he did that, my family thought, ‘Oh, he’ll be just fine.’
“It’s funny. We had our season-ticket form from the Cardinals at home in the stack of bills, and I knew how much Jason loved the Cardinals. I didn’t know what to do. You know, how is Jason going to be by then? I asked my mom, ‘Should I pay this? Are we even going to be able go?’ ”
Jason Taylor barely remembers it. “I love the Cardinals so much, and we’ve had so much fun over the past few years going, and getting to know the people in our section. It’s like a little community. We’re friends. And when I found out what day it was, I just figured I wanted to be sure we kept the tickets.”
The Cardinals, of course, were floored when they heard, and when the story was reported, eloquently, by columnist Paola Boivin of the Arizona Republic. In the middle of the lockout, Boivin wrote: “Most fans see this league as more than a corporate entity. It’s a friend. Now is no time to abandon them.”
The Cardinals put players, Larry Fitzgerald and others, in touch with the Taylors. Long-snapper Mike Leach and his wife hosted the Taylors at training camp in Flagstaff this summer. And Bidwill invited them to the NFL’s kickoff game in Green Bay. When I met Taylor, he was smiling like a 7-year-old on Christmas morning. Then he brought the flag on the field Sunday, before the opener with Carolina. The team he loved so much loved him back.
Jason Taylor is rehabbing these days, hoping to get in mental and physical shape well enough to resume his recruiting life for Brown Mackie College. “I’m about 70 percent right now,” he said, “and I hope to get back to 100 percent. I’ve got some memory issues, and balance issues — big time. It’ll take a while, but I’m determined. It’s hard. I read where 92 percent of all people who get shot in the head do not survive.” He played poker Saturday night for the first time since the shooting; that’s his big leisure activity. That, and the Cardinals.
What makes his story compelling to me comes next.
“How do you feel about the shooter?” I asked. “Are you angry?”
“No,” Taylor said, and he started to laugh. “I think I’m about the only one who isn’t. One of the people treating me said to me, ‘Eventually you’ll have some anger about this, and it’s natural when you do.’ Except I haven’t. I don’t think I will.”
“Why?’ I said.
“Because it can’t help me get better.”
He paused then. “It’s pretty hard to be mad at the guy,” Jason said. “He was obviously tormented by something. He was probably having the bad day of all bad days.”
Besides, he said: “I don’t want this to define me as a person, or to define my life. Getting shot outside a bar is not going to be the biggest thing in my life. I want to be a great husband and father and do something good in my life. And I will. I really don’t see this as a negative. I see this as something I can learn from, and will learn from. I won’t spend a lot of time using negative energy on it. It just can’t help me.”
I just thought you would be helped by that today. I know I have been.