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Herrion's life, fun-loving nature celebrated at his funeral
Published August 28, 2005
FORT WORTH, Texas - 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 Saturday to say farewell and reflect on the affable 49ers offensive lineman, who collapsed and died last weekend in Denver after 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 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, coach Mike Nolan and most of the offensive line.
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 NFL senior football operations manager Merton Hanks, who also played for the 49ers and, like Herrion, is 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 who attended were coming off Friday night's 16-13 preseason overtime win at home against Tennessee.
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.
Several players from Polytechnic High School - which retired Herrion's No. 76 jersey before its season opener Friday - wore their school jerseys while seated near the front. Tangelon Nichols, one of Herrion's 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. "No one could remain despondent if Thomas had anything to say about it."
JETS: Veteran punter Micah Knorr was cut and the job was given to Australian Ben Graham. Knorr did little to distinguish himself in camp: In three preseason games he had seven punts for an average 41.4 yards, and it was clear the 6-foot-5 Graham had the stronger leg. The Jets also cut running back DeCori Birmingham, tackles Ethan Brooks and Henry Tellis, receivers Eddie Jackson and Carl Kearney, and cornerback Art Thomas.