|Everywhere they look, Broncos see reminders of slain teammate Darrent Williams|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 16 August 2007 13:23|
The Denver Broncos end each practice in a circle, shouting his catchphrase, ``All Ready!''
The slain cornerback's signature saying is also emblazoned across T-shirts the team printed up for its offseason strength and conditioning program.
His old nameplate and photos are tucked above cornerback Domonique Foxworth's locker.
Wide receiver Javon Walker said he still has the bloodied shirt from that awful morning when Williams died in his arms in what is believed to be a gang-related killing. Walker said he kept the unlaundered shirt to remind him of his friend and the fragility of life.
On the back of each helmet is a decal with the Nos. 27 and 29, in honor of Williams and backup running back Damien Nash, who died following a charity basketball game in St. Louis two months after Williams was slain in a New Year's Day drive-by shooting that remains unsolved.
Many players are wearing dark blue rubber wristbands with Williams' name and number in burnt orange.
Girls Club in Denver's Montbello neighborhood.
A statue is under commission at the teen center, which is under construction not far from the spot where the energetic cornerback with bulging biceps and a ceaseless smile was gunned down. A monument is being built at Invesco Field, where Williams will be honored during a game this season.
The record crowds that packed the practice fields at camp included dozens of fans wearing his jersey.
And there was the real No. 27 on game film the defensive backs watched, rewinded time and again to show Williams picking off a pass and taking it to the house.
There are laughs all around - and some tears.
It's a spirit the Broncos are still trying to clutch eight months after the senseless slaying that left two young children without a father, yanked at the heart of a franchise and jolted a community to its soul.
``I think everybody embraces Darrent's memory in their own way,'' coach Mike Shanahan said. ``I can only speak for myself and I just said, 'Hey, the guy upstairs wanted him, and he got a great guy.' He's going to be missed by this football team. But this football team will embrace his memory. We're not afraid to talk about him.''
For some, however, Williams' slaying remains too horrific to discuss - notably Walker, who has refused to talk about it with anyone except HBO, with which he shared some disturbing details of the shooting last week.
In an interview on ``Real Sports'' that opened fresh wounds and maybe even a can of worms, Walker revealed that teammate Brandon Marshall was at the center of an argument that occurred during a New Year's Eve party at a downtown Denver club.
Walker said that at closing time, Marshall and his cousin exchanged heated words with two men who had been kicked out of the club earlier that night. Witnesses said the men flashed gang signs and confronted Williams and his group after taking offense when Marshall sprayed them with champagne.
After both men tried to intervene, Walker was invited into Williams' limo and they drove off into the night. Moments later, their stretch Hummer was sprayed with bullets, one of which pierced Williams' neck.
Marshall, who had left the club in another vehicle, declined to comment on what Walker told HBO.
Walker also said he doesn't need any grief counseling and is dealing with the loss on his own, though there are reminders all around him.
This week, the Broncos spent several days in Irving, Texas, practicing with the Dallas Cowboys not far from where they attended Williams' funeral in Fort Worth.
On a particularly somber note for the Broncos, Williams' slaying led NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to order the league's annual security program to include expanded presentations on gangs and guns, spokesman Greg Aiello said.
Videos on the topics were added for the first time and one of them featured a warning from Williams' mother, Rosalind Williams, to be careful in public. Law enforcement officers from each NFL city were on hand during the briefings to all 32 teams to localize the presentation regarding gangs. And the league is advising players for the first time not to own or carry a gun, even legally. (Williams was unarmed when he was killed).
Despite the Broncos having kicked in a $100,000 reward for information, no one has been charged in connection with Williams' killing.
Denver police spokesman Sonny Jackson said Williams' slaying isn't included in the department's list of gang-related homicides this year: ``You can't say that because no one's in custody charged with his killing. We have not named any suspects. It's still an active, open homicide investigation.''
However, several gang members in custody on federal drug-trafficking charges are believed to have been in the vehicle that was used in the crime and know who pulled the trigger. But only Willie DeWayne Clark, 24, is named in court documents as a ``person of interest'' in Williams' death. Local media reports say two other men who have been indicted on federal drug charges have been named by police sources as ``persons of interest'' in the case.
``Suspects but no witnesses,'' lamented the Rev. Leon Kelly, who helps Denver area teenagers escape gangs and drugs and has long suggested the specter of gang involvement in Williams' slaying would silence anybody with information.
Fear of violent retaliation for cooperating with police is the biggest hurdle in gang-related killings, said Kelly, executive director of Denver's Open Door Youth Gang Alternatives.
``People told me, 'If I get this change, I can't use it if I'm dead. If anything, I can give it to my babies, but it's almost like signing a death warrant to step up and speak,''' Kelly said.
``I know kids who were killed by gangs 20 years ago and nobody's paid the price yet. Unfortunately, this case may join the ranks of so many other kids who lost their lives and there's still no closure.''
It's difficult knowing there have been no arrests made in the case, safety Nick Ferguson said. ``Hopefully some new developments are coming to kind of just put this thing to rest and not just give us some peace of mind but, most importantly, to give his mother some peace of mind,'' Ferguson said.
Rosalind Williams said she's not frustrated with the slow pace of the investigation and that she trusts her son's killer will pay for his crime.
``We understand that because it was such a cowardly act, it's hard to pinpoint one gunman. He was in a vehicle driving by and rolling down the window, there were several people in the vehicle and they didn't catch them that night, so they couldn't do the hand (gun powder) test on anyone,'' she said. ``So, we understand that as a family. However, I have no doubt they'll be brought to justice.''
Rosalind Williams said she has found comfort in the friendship of Joan Hall, the mother of Atlanta Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall. Her son, Kevin Smith, was shot and killed at age 24 in 1994.
``We can talk for hours on the phone,'' Rosalind Williams said. ``There's a connection that only a mother who's lost a child to violence can understand. She's been a godsend.''
Williams' slaying led to a revitalized Metro Denver Gang Coalition, a public-private coalition of more than a dozen agencies and organizations that was disbanded in 2001 after it lost key funding in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Kelly said Williams' slaying led to an increase in calls he received from parents seeking help in getting their kids out of gangs, but there's been no lull in gang violence in Denver this year.
Jackson said there's been a handful of homicides in 2007 in which either the victim or the perpetrator was in a gang; Kelly puts the number at 20, taking into account the killings where no arrests have been made.
``People are still dying. Think about it, Darrent Williams was an idol in the minds of so many people and the gang-bangers have little or no respect for a public idol,'' Kelly said. ``What chance do you think a regular kid on the street has?''
Girls Club in Fort Worth.
Girls Club in Montbello while helping to raise funds for the Darrent Williams Teen Center, a much-needed expansion of the club.
``Sometimes I'll just go up there and play basketball and hang out and just try to get involved in kids' lives,'' Foxworth said. ``I think losing Darrent was terrible and it was very difficult to deal with, but we're trying to turn a negative into something positive. He lost his life. Hopefully once the teen center gets up, it's going to save a lot of other lives.''
Girls Club serve as his coping mechanism.
``I'd like to think that I'm doing a lot of good there, but it's definitely helped me,'' he said. ``It feels good to be around these young lives and help push them in the right direction.''