Grieving 49ers struggle to get past death

By Times wire
Published August 23, 2005

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Less than 48 hours after their teammate collapsed and died, the 49ers gathered together, discussed their grief and somehow went back to work.

The team held a light afternoon practice Monday after several hours of meetings and mourning for Thomas Herrion, the popular offensive lineman who died Saturday after a preseason game in Denver.

"It was a waste for me," left tackle Jonas Jennings said of the hourlong workout. "Mentally, I wasn't there. But you've got to be a professional. You've got to do what's expected of you."

An autopsy of Herrion was inconclusive and results from toxicology tests could take several weeks. The 23-year-old had a family history of heart ailments, but medical experts could not definitively say those problems contributed to his death.

Herrion's father, J.C., died early last year of a stroke complicated by diabetes. He was 51. His mother, Janice, has had high blood pressure and hypertension.

Dr. Robert Eckel, president of the American Heart Association, said the major cause of sudden death in young people was "an underlining undiagnosed cardiac abnormality."

"Often, it's an inherited defect that is not always detected," he said.

No answer will seem logical to Herrion's teammates. His fellow offensive linemen got another sobering reminder of their profession's risks and the physical extremes required to play it well, though no link has been established between Herrion's weight, about 330 pounds, and his death.

"It's something you don't like to think about every day," 6-foot-5, 310-pound center Jeremy Newberry, said. "I think the life expectancy for offensive linemen isn't great, but it's part of your job. ... (A player could) try to play at 200 pounds, but that isn't going to happen. I've always been big, since I was 9 or 10. I guess I'll pay more attention to blood pressure issues."

Rookie sparks Cowboys

SEATTLE - Cowboys rookie Demarcus Ware looks ready to be an NFL linebacker.

In one half, Ware forced two fumbles, recovered one, had an interception, a sack and three tackles in Dallas' 18-10 preseason victory over Seattle.

Cowboys quarterback Drew Bledsoe was 7-of-11 for 56 yards and one TD, playing into the second quarter.

PHILLIPS ARRESTED: Former NFL running back Lawrence Phillips, who was wanted by police for domestic violence, was arrested late Sunday after police said he drove his car into three teenagers who argued with him during a pickup football game.

Phillips was charged with suspicion of attempted murder and domestic abuse and held without bail, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Web site.

Police had been seeking Phillips, 30, since earlier this month on charges of attacking his girlfriend twice, once choking her into unconsciousness.

The teenagers were taken to a local hospital with non-life threatening injuries, police said.

The car Phillips was driving was reported stolen in San Diego last week, police said.

TE BLAMES FLIGHT PROBLEM: Tight end Antonio Gates said travel problems kept him from reporting to Chargers training camp by Saturday afternoon, as mandated by the team.

Missing the deadline had serious consequences. The Chargers say they will place the All-Pro on the roster exempt list, meaning he'll have to sit out the final two preseason games and the season opener against Dallas on Sept.11.

"You don't understand," Gates said. "I tried to come in Saturday but I couldn't get a flight. So we ended up calling and explaining we weren't able to make it in Saturday. So it wasn't my intention to actually miss the deadline."

That was news to the Chargers, who despite 10 months of talks have been unable to agree with Gates' agent on terms of a contract. He signed a $380,000, one-year deal Sunday, the minimum for a third-year player.

BROWNS-PATRIOTS TRADE: Receiver Andre' Davis, pushed to the bottom of Cleveland's depth chart, was traded to New England for an undisclosed draft pick.

CARDINALS: Running back Troy Hambrick was among nine players cut. Hambrick, 29, a former Pasco standout and starter for the Cowboys, has been sidelined with a sprained foot since last season, when he rushed for 283 yards and a touchdown in 10 games for Arizona. He has 2,179 yards and 10 touchdowns in his career.

GIANTS: Eli Manning will miss Friday's preseason game against the Jets with a sprained elbow but said the injury might not prevent him from playing in a regular-season game. The quarterback was examined by a team doctor, who confirmed he had a sprain and bruise on his right elbow.

JAGUARS: Running back Fred Taylor, still recovering from a knee injury, will make his preseason debut Thursday against Atlanta. Taylor had surgery in January to repair two partially torn knee ligaments.

PANTHERS: Running back Stephen Davis was on the field for the first time, participating in a few individual drills. He had microfracture surgery on his right knee in November and the team has been hesitant to allow him to practice. Defensive end Julius Peppers rested a sore right ankle.

RAVENS: Tight end Todd Heap was activated off the physically unable to perform list but will not play in Friday's preseason game.

TITANS: Top draft pick Adam "Pacman" Jones finally signed his five-year contract and attended his first practice after holding out.

VIKINGS: Running back Michael Bennett didn't practice because of a sore neck, which might keep him out of Friday's preseason game.

ARENA LEAGUE: Lineman Nyle Wiren, a 2004 All-Arena selection, is among 10 Tampa Bay Storm players eligible to be signed by other teams when the free-agent signing period begins Sept.14. Quarterbacks Pat O'Hara and Stoney Case, receivers/defensive backs Clif Dell and Anthony Derricks, kicker Matt George, fullback/linebacker David White and linemen Omar Smith and Mike Sutton are the others.

Lineman Darion Conner is on the list, but he was sentenced to 15 years in prison in July after a jury found him guilty of DUI-manslaughter and vehicular homicide charges in the 2004 death of a Carrollwood bicyclist.

Teams can begin contacting free agents Aug.31.

--Times staff writer Frank Pastor contributed to this report.