Darrent Williams/ Thanks to The Denver Post/Glenn Asakawa)
Darrent Williams was one of the NFL’s anonymous cats. There are dozens of them, players who toil each week under the helmet at relatively unglamourous positions. In pro football, it’s all about the team. It’s all abut uniformity. It’s all about being a cog in the machine. Standing out is verboten – except for a chosen few, typically QBs, running backs or the occasional loud-mouthed wide-receiver. Standing out is particularly unwise for defensive players, who often gain notoriety only when they screw up or get scorched on coverage.
Otherwise, we watch the games each week with relatively little knowledge of most of the men under the helmets, even those who play for our home team. Darrent Williams, a cornerback for the Denver Broncos, came from beneath the helmet in tragic fashion in the first hours of the new year. Just hours after the Broncos suffered an overtime loss to San Francisco that eliminated them from playoff contention, Williams was shot and killed outside a Denver nightclub when a fusillade of bullets showered the Hummer limo in which he was riding. Two other passengers were injured in the drive-by attack, which occurred about 2 a.m.
Williams, a second-year player from Oklahoma State, had three tackles in the game and returned two punts for 50 yards. He was a young man who wasn’t supposed to make it – not as a 5-foot-8-inch second-round pick with a penchant for biting on play fakes, and not the son of a single mom raised in a dangerous ‘hood in Forth Worth, Texas. Among his best friends were local Crips gang members. “When he was younger, he always gravitated to the wrong crowd,” Anthony Criss, his high-school coach, told the Denver Post. ”I remember he went to church and the minister was talking to him about needing to pray and stop hanging around with the wrong people, and he started straightening up and doing the right thing.”
It seemed Williams had found the better path and was eager to share his journey with others who needed it. In December, he told friends and teammates of his desire to return to his hometown this off-season to talk to youngsters about staying out of gangs. He has two young children in Fort Worth and recently told Williams Criss he wanted to start a free football camp for youth players.
“I believed in myself and stayed at it,” Williams once told the Post. “A lot of people didn’t believe in me, but I kept believing in myself. I always told everybody since I was 8 years old that I was going to play in the NFL. I just stayed focused and stayed positive. … A lot of times, Mom had two jobs. So I was left to hang around friends or cousins. I was running the streets, getting into trouble. I was going down the wrong way for awhile.”
As of this writing, police have no motive or suspects in the attack.
One more thing: Take note, Tank Johnson.