Forum Spin Doctor
FORT WORTH, Texas - Darrent Williams came home Saturday to the tough streets he embraced and escaped, where he first flashed his awesome athletic skills and infectious smile. Thousands of friends, family members, teammates and fans attended the funeral for the charismatic Denver Broncos cornerback who was killed in a drive-by shooting on New Year's Day.
"I've never seen a little man with so much heart and so much fire," Broncos linebacker Al Wilson said at the three-hour service at Great Commission Baptist Church. "He touched my heart and always will."
When Williams' longtime girlfriend, Tierria Leonard, walked past his open casket, Williams' 7-year-old son, Darius, dressed in a navy pinstripe suit, cried uncontrollably just as he had at the memorial service Friday night, where he wore a T-shirt that read, "I love you Daddy."
Williams is also survived by a 4-year-old daughter, Jaelyn.
Broncos running back Tatum Bell, who played with Williams at Oklahoma State, broke down as he spoke at the service.
"I'm just glad D was in my life," he said through sobs as Wilson comforted him by his side.
The Broncos flew in for the funeral on a chartered flight that did not include wide receiver Javon Walker, who was with Williams when he lost his life.
"Javon is struggling," coach Mike Shanahan said after the service. "He's going through some very heavy grief right now and I talked to Champ (Bailey) about him. He's been with him for the last couple of days. He's going through a tough time. But I'm sure with everybody's support, he'll make it through it all right."
Williams was struck once in the neck and two other passengers were wounded when at least 14 shots were fired into the stretch Hummer that had just left a New Year's Eve party at a nightclub.
Police have no suspects in the slaying in downtown Denver but did make an arrest Friday night of a man they want to question. Police won't say whether they know the motive for the slaying but have said there was an altercation at the club.
Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, one of the speakers at the funeral, said bringing Williams' killers to justice was his "No. 1 goal right now."
Safety John Lynch drew rounds of applause when he told the gathering, "As a culture, as a country, we've got to start respecting life."
After the funeral, Williams' gold coffin was carried away in a horse-drawn carriage with his No. 27 Broncos jersey draped across the back. Several members of the funeral home staff, dressed in elegant tuxedos with tails and wearing Broncos baseball caps, walked solemnly in front of the white carriage down the street to the cemetery for the private burial service.
"It's a sad day for the NFL," commissioner Roger Goodell said. "Not just because we lost a great football player but, more importantly, we lost a great young man that represented his family and his community and his football team in a very positive way."
Union chief Gene Upshaw said the players association had set up a scholarship fund for Williams' children.
It took 90 minutes for the line of mourners to be seated in the 2,500-seat church, which was filled with more than three dozen flower arrangements, many of them orange and blue, the Broncos' colors.
Two of Williams' jerseys and a large picture of him were displayed. A Broncos helmet was at the front of the church and Williams' white No. 27 jersey was draped over the altar. Williams was dressed in a black pinstriped suit with an orange tie and white shirt.
Among the honorary pallbearers were Broncos defensive backs Bailey and Lynch. Shanahan also spoke at the service, recalling Williams' bravado even as a rookie in 2005.
"He said, 'Coach, I'm going to make you proud,'" Shanahan recalled. "And it wasn't the third day of practice, Champ looks over at me - and Champ doesn't say a whole lot - he looks over at me, puts his eyebrow up a little bit and he goes, 'You know what? We've got somebody special right here.'"
Bowlen and Goodell both spoke about working to make NFL players safer, although Upshaw noted that Williams did everything he was cautioned to do when going out on the town: go in a group, get somebody else to drive and leave at the first sign of trouble.
"On the other side of this, we have to address this kind of behavior, this kind of danger, with our athletes in the NFL," Bowlen said. "We are going to, as a league, approach this in a far different way, and we're not going to put our young players - or our players in general - in jeopardy. It's not going to happen."
Bowlen buried his 90-year-old mother last month and noted that "she died peacefully in her sleep after a long, great life. Unfortunately, Darrent didn't have that opportunity."
When Lynch spoke, all of the defensive backs and their coaches stood before the congregation and then huddled with his mother, Rosalind Williams, to repeat her son's favorite catch phrase, hollering, "All ready!" to laughter and applause.
"We can't thank you enough for bringing Darrent into our life," Lynch said. "We are so blessed to have had the opportunity to be in his presence. That smile, he was something special."