While searching for a proper picture for the title slide, this one of Darrent and Chris Henry jumped out.
Ironic, sad, curious? All of the above. Both young men taken down in the height of their glory, both in life and in their athletic potential.
Chris Henry was lost to a truly bad decision and bad luck on his part, Darrent WIlliams to the sickness of gangbangers that has poisoned many of our cities like a cancer. A cancer that only is visible to the masses when it reaches past the neighborhoods where most of the damage occurs.
But this piece is focused on the WIlliams tragedy and the ripple effects it has caused.
When Denver drafted this young athletic Cornerback/Return man out of Oklahoma State in the Second Round, I remember thinking; "He was a great and exciting player in the Big XII but will a 5'8" 180# Cornerback be able to really make it in the NFL?"
Well, it didn't take long to have my question answered. He thrived on the challenges, the speed and the physical part of the game. In only two years, he became one of the leaders of the Defense, with his skills but maybe more so with his enthusiasm, intensity and energy.
To see him on the sidelines urging on the Offense or on the field, he reminded me of a Ray Lewis mini-me. Not smaller in talent or value to his team, only in the difference in their stature.
With a two-year stat sheet of 139 tackles and 6 INT's, the future for Darrent and the Broncos seemed "to be so bright we all would have to wear shades."
When I awoke on New Years Day, getting ready to go skiing, I turned on the TV to check the weather, and was hit with this image of Williams' shot up limo and the unfolding story of what happened the night before.
My first thoughts were "No Way, they have the story wrong, the wrong guy was ID'd, he isn't really dead, etc.".
But I was wrong and he was dead.
As the story unfolded, it became clear the police and much of the gangbang community knew who pulled the trigger, it was just a matter of time til they gathered the truth and could take the case to trial. Little did we all know it would take over three years to get to that point.
I and most everyone else that follows this story hope for justice and we will just have to wait and see where that leads.
Here is a shot of Walker in the last game of his last REAL season and maybe the last time he has been truly happy.
After major knee surgery, he was signed away from the Packers by the Broncos. They were betting he could regain his speed and form and become the No. 1 WR to rebuild the Receiving corps with the loss of McCaffrey, the aging of Rod Smith, and some poor draft choices (Anyone remember Marcus Nash, Ashley Lelie, Willie Middlebrooks?). Oh, and a young kid named Marshall, but he was a rookie Fourth Rounder, and who knew?
This season he started all 16 games, had 69 catches, 1,084 Yards Receiving and 8 TDs, over 100 Rushing Yards and 1 TD. He was back, Big Time!
Here is Javon Walker the morning after the shooting. That is Darrent's blood on his shirt, as he was riding in the limo with his best friend Williams when they were gunned down.
And that was the end of Javon's life as he knew it.
He was never the same again in Denver. The following season, he played in 8 games, had 26 Receptions for 287 Yards and 0 TDs.
He was signed by Oakland, mugged in Vegas and spent the last season mostly on the Raiders' Inactive list.
A sad but seemingly end to a potentially great career, yes, but also the end of a man's happiness and living a life never to be the same.
He is scheduled to testify in the trial, and I am sure this will dredge up memories that will not be pleasant.
Denver had just finished with a great draft. Jay Cutler (the next Elway!!/??), Brandon Marshall, Elvis Dumervil, Tony Scheffler, and Chris Kuper.
They were getting armed and dangerous and ready to get back to the top, and compete for at least the AFC West, if not the SB.
They lost a heartbreaker to the 49'ers in OT on New Years Eve to bump them from the Playoffs. But they had hope and were looking forward to next year.
And that night, the shooting.
Notice the round sticker on Champ Bailey's helmet. The No. 27 (Williams) and No. 29, which was for Damian Nash, a young and well-liked Bronco running back who died of natural causes 50 days after Williams during a charity basketball game in his home town of St. Louis.
Nothing seemed to go the right way after this. The next top two draft choices, Jarvis Moss and Tim Crowder, both supposed to bolster the Defense, were busts, at least for Denver.
They traded for Dan Wilkerson from Miami, who didn't even show up. They signed Travis Henry, another bust, both as a player and as a human being.
They medically released MLB Al Wilson, another leader of the Defense. They traded for Dre' Bly from Detroit to replace WIlliams which he couldn't do.
They finished 7-9 and missed the Playoffs again.
And last year, they fired Shanahan after a 8-8 season, hired a new coach, traded Cutler, and well, you know the rest.
So, did the death of Darrent have a ripple effect on the Broncos, I believe so. Was this the only reason for the poor past few years. Absolutely not.
Just looking at this man and that life-embracing grin, how can you argue that his loss, to his family and friends, but also to the Broncos and the Denver community hasn't left a hole that can never really be filled.
Darrent, we miss you!