FORT WORTH, Texas (Aug. 27, 2005) -- The high school band danced for three blocks, twisting and stepping in a processional that sounded more like a parade.
The song was called Fun -- exactly what Thomas Herrion would have wanted at his funeral.
Two horses pulled Herrion's casket behind the band until reaching the brick church with the high steeple.
About 1,000 people gathered there to say farewell and reflect on the affable San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman, who died last week after collapsing in Denver following a preseason game.
Former teammates, coaches and NFL officials filled the center pews in front of the pulpit, where red and gold flowers rested on Herrion's casket. On either side were pictures and helmets belonging to the 23-year-old, who was fondly remembered in a service that elicited almost as many laughs as tears.
"Without any reservation, he played football for the right reasons," said Florida coach Urban Meyer, who coached Herrion at Utah before leaving for the Gators. "He played for three reasons -- he played for his mother, his family and his teammates, and I want you to know that."
About 30 players, coaches and personnel from the 49ers attended the service. Among them were rookie quarterback Alex Smith -- who played with Herrion at Utah -- head coach Mike Nolan and most of the offensive line.
Others in attendance were NFL senior football operations manager Merton Hanks, who said he was speaking on behalf of NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue. Also there were several of Herrion's former teammates and coaches from Utah, Kilgore Junior College and Fort Worth Polytechnic High School.
Herrion's mother, Janice, sobbed in the front rows with other family members as Herrion's casket was carried from the carriage and into the sanctuary. Her son's jerseys hung from the second-floor balcony in the spacious and ornate Travis Avenue Baptist Church, a setting much larger than the small churches where Herrion served as a deacon and played drums while growing up in Fort Worth.
"It's obvious by the different levels of people who came out that Thomas sowed his seeds everywhere he went," said Hanks, who also played for the 49ers and, like Herrion, is also from North Texas. "And the people around him were the beneficiaries of that."
Members of the 49ers arrived in white limousines about an hour before the service. Those players who attended were coming off a 16-13 preseason overtime victory at home against Tennessee the night before.
After the service, the 49ers stood single-file outside the church as Herrion's casket rolled past them and was placed in a hearse. Herrion was to be buried in Mansfield, a suburb about 20 miles southeast of Fort Worth.
"He really brought a lot of joy to people," said 49ers guard Paul Zukauskas, whose locker was next to Herrion's. "It was the least we could to come down here."
Team chaplain Earl Smith addressed the mourners on behalf of the 49ers. He described his first meeting with Herrion at a team bible study, where the lineman said he was grateful for being released from the Dallas Cowboys during training camp before coming to San Francisco.
"He said ... 'I'm glad, because I needed a fellowship. I needed somewhere where I feel like I belong,' " Smith said. "The fellowship felt that love."
Several players from Polytechnic High School -- which retired Herrion's No. 76 jersey before its season opener Aug. 26 -- wore their school jerseys while seated near the front. Tangelon Nichols, one of Herrion's closest friends from Polytechnic, prodded laughs after recounting memories of Herrion working at a fast-food restaurant, the "raggedy red Buick" he drove in high school and how his graduation gown tightly clung to his beefy body.
"He was an indelible personality who left an impression on all who knew him," said Rick Babcock, who coached Herrion at Polytechnic. "He could be serious and, in a brief moment, he could turn that seriousness into something lighthearted. No one could remain despondent if Thomas had anything to say about it."
The Associated Press News Service
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