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Herrion remembered at memorial service

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (Aug. 23, 2005) -- Thomas Herrion was remembered as a wonderful friend and teammate at a memorial service for the San Francisco 49ers' offensive lineman who collapsed and died after a preseason game last week.

About 500 people attended the service, including NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, union head Gene Upshaw and all of Herrion's teammates and coaches in San Francisco. Herrion's mother and brother sat near the front along with his fellow offensive linemen.

"He was a good kid," said his mother, Janice. "I'm proud of the man he became. It was short-lived, but I'm proud."

Framed pictures of Herrion and copies of his white 49ers jersey decorated the room. The short program featuring songs composed by teammates Eric Heitmann and Fred Amey, along with impromptu remembrances from former Utah coach Ron McBride, defensive lineman Bryant Young and Herrion's brother, Savior, who shook with grief while he spoke.

"Thomas lived a life we can all aspire to and learn from," said Mike Singletary, the 49ers' assistant head coach.

The 49ers drove in a bus convoy from their training complex in Santa Clara to a church in nearby Mountain View. NFL greats Roger Craig and Art Shell also attended.

Team chaplain Earl Smith spoke reverently of Herrion's spirit and determination. When Herrion arrived in San Francisco after being cut by the Dallas Cowboys last season, Smith said the lineman told his teammates that he was meant to be with the 49ers.

"What Thomas did was he brought confirmation to the value of people's lives," Smith said.

The 49ers went through a full practice in the morning for the first time since the 23-year-old offensive lineman's death. The team had an hour-long workout Aug. 22, but most of the players' heads admittedly weren't in it.

"It started kind of slow, but we got back into it, bad as you might not want to," left tackle Jonas Jennings said of the latest workout. "You've got to get some type of enthusiasm going out there. It's kind of kicking in as a reality. People only grieve for so long, but I'm starting to understand it."

Most of the 49ers said that being witness to Herrion's collapse was the toughest part of the ordeal. Quarterback Alex Smith, who played with Herrion at Utah for two seasons, had difficulty describing the scene to his parents on the phone.

"I'm still in shock from how it all played out, the locker room scene Saturday night and witnessing that," Smith said.

Others around the league saw Herrion's death as a call for new concern about excessive weight. Many players were chastened by the latest reminder of the dangers of their sport.

"Since it happened in the locker room like it did, it affected the 49ers but it also affects everyone in the league," said Marcell Almond, a Jacksonville cornerback who played with Herrion in NFL Europe. "If it would have happened on the field, it would have affected the fans, the teams, both teams. It would have had a different effect on the whole league."

The Associated Press News Service

Copyright 2005, The Associated Press, All Rights Reserved

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