Broncos, fans honor Williams


Published: Wednesday, January 3, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 3, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

DENVER — Police asked for help finding Darrent Williams' killer Tuesday as coaches and teammates gathered at Broncos headquarters to honor the 24-year-old player gunned down after a New Year's Eve party.

"Darrent was a guy that was always upbeat, always had a smile and he was a fierce competitor," said Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, fighting back tears.

Williams was killed in a drive-by shooting early Monday, hours after the Broncos were eliminated from playoff contention.

"We're working around the clock on this investigation," police spokesman Sonny Jackson said. "It's a situation where anyone who knows what happened or has any information, we'd love to hear."

Jackson said the police had not identified any suspects, and were unsure of the nature of the taunts that they believe sparked an altercation at a night club before the shooting that also wounded two other people.

Police were searching for a white Suburban or Tahoe with dark-tinted windows.

Williams sustained a single gunshot wound to the neck, according to Robert Whitmore, chief medical examiner in the county coroner's office.

The team will hold a private memorial Wednesday at Bronco headquarters so that Williams' teammates can tell his family what he meant to them. The team also will fly together to Fort Worth, Texas, for Williams' funeral on Saturday.

"He's in a better place right now," Shanahan said, choking up at a news conference. "It's hard to understand right now. He's a good man. He's up in heaven right now."

Receiver Javon Walker was with Williams in the limousine when he was killed and was one of several Broncos who met with professional counselors the team brought in.

"He just went through a tragic experience," Shanahan said. "A lot of times when somebody has that happen to them, they wonder why it (wasn't them). That's just human nature and obviously the counselors are talking with him about that. It's a process. It takes some time."

Instead of the usual exit interviews and locker clean out Tuesday, the team gathered to cope with Williams' death.

"Today wasn't about football or the offseason or the future," safety Nick Ferguson said. "Today was to grieve and remember the good things about him. ... Today we joked, laughed and embraced a lot, what a family does."

Fans built a makeshift memorial of flowers, photos, teddy bears and footballs outside team headquarters, one of three around the city. There were also memorials at the scene of the shooting and at Invesco Field.

Rudy Leyva of Laredo, Texas, was given a trip to the Broncos' season finale against San Francisco as a Christmas present from his girlfriend, Jessica Cerda. While at the game he caught a giveaway T-shirt in the stands and got Williams to sign it following the Broncos' loss.

Leyva put flowers around the memorial and left his orange rosary beads hanging from a snow-covered Christmas wreath.

"I cried at the loss and then cried when I found out he died," Leyva said. "It was just devastating."

Sidney Roll of Colorado Springs brought up her two grandchildren, Manhattan Trull, 4, and Gage Trull, 3, to pay final respects to Williams, who was Manhattan's favorite player.

"She saw him at a preseason game (against Houston) and wanted to give him a hug," Roll said. "I told her these guys don't have time to hug you. He waved her over (in the parking lot after the game) and gave her a hug. She even named her fish "Bling" after him, because he was wearing jewelry."

The club had advertised a New Year's Eve event celebrating the birthday of Denver Nuggets basketball player Kenyon Martin. The Nuggets canceled practice Monday.

Martin declined to comment Tuesday.

"I really feel for the Broncos and their organization," said center Marcus Camby, who didn't attend the party. "Knowing Darrent personally, I really feel for his kids. He was a good friend."

Williams had a 7-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter who live in Fort Worth. A memorial fund was set up in their honor.

A viewing was scheduled Friday evening at the Great Commission Baptist Church in Fort Worth, with the funeral scheduled for Saturday at the same church, Williams' agent Jeff Griffin said.

"It's always tough anytime you deal with somebody that's part of your family," Shanahan said. "Just a class young man that I cared an awful lot for. It's tough."

LIONS

President Matt Millen told a small group of reporters he's received indications from ownership that he'll be back to run the franchise in 2007.

Millen said Lions owner William Clay Ford told him to keep doing his job.

Detroit is an NFL-worst 24-72 since Millen took control of football operations in 2001. The Lions beat Dallas on Sunday, finishing an NFC-low 3-13, and the win cost them the top pick in the draft, which will go to Oakland.

Millen said quitting was not an option he considered despite criticism of the team's dismal performance in his tenure.

"I'll never quit," Millen said in a story posted Tuesday by The Detroit News. "I can't do that. I don't even consider that.

"It's the way I'm made."

Asked why he wouldn't quit, Millen replied: "You're given a job, regardless of what it is. You keep on working and trying to get the thing done."

Millen has four years left on his second five-year contract with the Lions. Before the final home game on Dec. 24, he said he didn't know whether Ford would retain him for the following season.

About 100 Detroit fans held a protest during the second quarter of the last home game. The fans left their seats midway through the quarter and gathered in Ford Field's atrium, where they chanted "Fire Millen" while watching the game on the scoreboard.

STEELERS

Assistant head coach Russ Grimm and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt were given permission to interview for NFL head coaching jobs.

Whisenhunt, apparently the top choice of the Oakland Raiders a season ago, will talk with the Atlanta Falcons and Arizona Cardinals. Grimm will meet with the Cardinals.

The two would also be among the leading candidates to replace Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher if he resigns — one reason why Steelers ownership wants Cowher to quickly make a decision about his future.

Grimm was a finalist for the Chicago Bears' job three years ago before Lovie Smith was hired.

PATRIOTS

The NFL ruled that the block by a Tennessee receiver that injured New England safety Rodney Harrison over the weekend was legal.

Mike Pereira, the league's director of officiating, said Titans receiver Bobby Wade didn't commit an illegal crackback block because he was blocking upfield and not back toward the ball, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Tuesday.

Harrison injured the medial collateral ligament in his right knee, according to The Boston Globe and the Boston Herald. It wasn't clear how long he'll be sidelined. New England hosts the New York Jets in an opening-round playoff game Sunday.

Harrison's agent, Steve Feldman, did not return a call seeking comment. Patriots spokesman Stacey James declined comment in advance of Wednesday's official injury report.

Harrison, 34, was injured in the second quarter of Sunday's 40-23 victory over the Titans. Wade lined up to the right of the line of scrimmage, when Travis Henry carried for a 9-yard run. Harrison was chasing the play when Wade hit him with a low block.

Patriots players were angry over the hit, but no penalty was called and Harrison was able to walk off the field.

Harrison tore three ligaments in his left knee at Pittsburgh in the third game last year and missed the rest of the season. He started the first eight games this season, then broke his right shoulder blade in a 27-20 loss to Indianapolis when wide receiver Marvin Harrison fell on his arm.

BENGALS

Coach Marvin Lewis refused to talk about suspended linebacker Odell Thurman, another indication that he has written him out of the team's plans.

Thurman was suspended for the season because he violated the NFL's substance abuse policy. He can apply to the league for reinstatement before next season.

Lewis has been upset with the middle linebacker's repeated off-field problems, and took his locker away when the NFL handed down its suspension. Lewis also told Thurman to stay away from the team.

"Odell is not a member of this football team," Lewis said Tuesday. "He's on suspension by the NFL. He's got a long road to go. I'm not even going to spend any time talking about Odell."

Thurman and receiver Chris Henry epitomized the underlying problems with the '06 Bengals.

Thurman was a second-round draft pick in 2005 and started 15 games as a rookie. He led the team in tackles, tied for the lead in forced fumbles, and had five interceptions, the most by any rookie in the NFL.

It appeared that Thurman, who came out of Georgia with questions about his character, was a defensive star in the making. But he got a four-game suspension from the league for missing an offseason drug test.

After a victory in Pittsburgh left the Bengals 3-0, Thurman was arrested for drunken driving that night. Henry, who has been arrested four times, was a passenger in the vehicle but wasn't charged.

The league extended Thurman's suspension for the rest of the season, and Henry was benched by Lewis for the next game. The league then added a two-game suspension for Henry, who has two court cases pending heading into the offseason.

Lewis originally hoped that Thurman could become a leader like middle linebacker Ray Lewis in Baltimore. Now, he appears to have written him off.

Asked if Thurman could be part of the team again, Lewis said, "I don't know that. I don't see it on our horizon."

Thurman's off-field problems forced the Bengals to rearrange their linebackers and repeatedly switch their defensive lineups. Although the defense improved overall this season, it faded during an 0-3 finish that cost the Bengals (8-8) a chance to make the playoffs.

Lewis said Tuesday that the defense was one of his biggest disappointments.

"Defensively, I think the thing we really have to do is develop an identity," Lewis said. "I think if you said what's a disappointment, that's a disappointment. We didn't develop an identity.

"We had a good start at it, we had a little blip in the middle, and I don't think we finished it off very well. I know we didn't finish it off very good. That's something that I've got to look hard at."

GIANTS

Starting cornerback Corey Webster was placed on the season-ending injured reserve list with toe and hip problems.

Webster was reinjured on Saturday in 34-28 win over the Washington Redskins that helped the Giants (8-8) make the playoffs.

Webster suffered a toe injury against Jacksonville on Nov. 20 and missed the next four games. He was active for the last two games.

Webster is the fifth starter to be placed on injured reserve, joining linebacker LaVar Arrington, receiver Amani Toomer, defensive end Michael Strahan and tackle Luke Petitgout. Kick returner Chad Morton also is on injured reserve.

COLTS

Coach Tony Dungy has no plans for returning to college, even if he gets a call from his alma mater, Minnesota.

Dungy on denied a report out of Minneapolis saying he was near the top of the Golden Gophers' wish list and that there was mutual interest.

The job opened Sunday when coach Glen Mason was fired, two days after his team blew a 31-point lead in a 44-41 loss to Texas Tech. It was the largest rally in Division I-A bowl history.

Dungy said he understood why his name would be linked to the job.

"I think that might be the case because I went to school there, but I'm not a college coach and I never have been a college coach," he said. "I'm not sure who's on their list. But I'm not a college coach. I'm flattered, but I'm not interested."

Meanwhile, safety Bob Sanders is expected to play Saturday when the team opens the playoffs against Kansas City.

Sanders said Tuesday his injured knee was feeling better than it has in weeks and planned to practice this week.

"I feel good," he said. "This whole week has been making sure I'm able to strengthen it (the knee), and as long as I can do that, I should be OK."

EAGLES

Quarterback Koy Detmer's holding skills on field goals are so valuable Philadelphia couldn't enter the playoffs without him.

The veteran returned to the Eagles to provide insurance behind starter Jeff Garcia and backup A.J. Feeley. More important, Detmer likely will replace punter Dirk Johnson as the holder for kicker David Akers.

DRAFT

The Detroit Lions' win in Dallas on Sunday dropped them from the first pick in next April's draft to the second, with the first choice going to Oakland.

The NFL released the official order for the draft on Tuesday.

Either Cleveland or Tampa Bay will pick third. The Browns and Bucs, both of whom finished 4-12, each played teams with a combined .535 winning percentage, so the order will be determined by a coin flip.

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