|02-07-2007, 04:37 AM||#1|
Join Date: Apr 2006
Coaching his team past the pain
Coaching his team past the pain
By Mark Kiszla
Denver Post Staff Columnist
The X's and O's of football, a sport where fear represents weakness, are never connected to death. But, as the Broncos are learning, the Jan. 1 murder of Darrent Williams ensures every significant date on the 2007 calendar, from the NFL season opener to the deceased cornerback's birthday, will be a painful reminder he is gone.
And that's where the Broncos need Mike Shanahan to coach them in a way that will reduce his Super Bowl rings to baubles and make football seem trivial.
Shanahan can coach the Broncos on dealing with death.
He has been there, helpless as death stole a friend, when if not for luck or fate the dead man could have been Shanahan himself.
"I've watched a buddy die," Shanahan said Tuesday.
In his youth, Shanahan dodged death from the back seat of a motorcycle. It was his bike. Just this once, he let Mickey Bertini drive. They were college sophomores, cruising the streets of Chicago during the early 1970s.
In the dark this one horrific night, while passing under a green light, how could Shanahan and Bertini possibly have avoided the terrible wreck as an automobile barreled through the intersection, blindly ignoring the traffic signal to stop?
"The car ran right over us, so much that some people thought they were trying to hit us," said Shanahan, tossed like a rag doll from the bike to the sidewalk.
Bertini caught the full force of the collision. As he lay dying, and Shanahan hobbled on a twisted ankle, the car sped off and some witnesses seemed more interested in stealing the bike than calling for help.
During the first hours of 2007, when a bullet punctured a limousine and ripped through D-Will's neck, the blood and the life seeped out of the 24-year-old cornerback in the lap of Broncos teammate Javon Walker.
How could Walker, who caught 69 passes for Denver after signing a five-year, $40 million contract, ever be the same again? If Williams has moved on to a better place, as the Broncos believe, Walker is left to deal with the hellacious guilt that often preys on any survivor who is left to wonder why death skipped over him.
"When you have somebody die in your arms, that's something you never forget," Shanahan said. "I will never forget it. Javon never will forget it. But he can go on."
For a man who once had the last rites read to him, after being speared in the kidneys as a quarterback for Eastern Illinois, Shanahan readily admits to being uncomfortable with thoughts of mortality.
"Dealing with death is very hard for me," said Shanahan, who will celebrate his 55th birthday in August. "Even talking about death is hard for me."
So from whom does Shanahan take his cues and find clues on how to deal with a tragedy that will follow the Broncos everywhere they go in 2007?
The great, unsung heroine in the death of a Denver athlete was the victim's own mother. At a funeral, how many times have you seen the one who should be most grief-stricken do the most healing? Having lost a son to murder, Rosalind Williams restored strength to an entire football team with her spirit.
Not 72 hours after her son had passed away, a brave mom consoled the Broncos during a private memorial service at team headquarters, telling them all that what D-Will would want most is for Denver to win the Super Bowl.
"Everybody got up and talked at the memorial," Shanahan recalled. "And everybody was thinking, 'What do you say in a time of tragedy?' But his mom stood up and said: 'I want to let you guys know that one thing is very important. Rally around this death. Make this a call to action. I want you guys to win. That's what Darrent would want.'
"As a football coach, you never think you're ever going to talk about death or talk about the loss of a loved one. That's separate from football, that's bigger than football.
"But here was a mom who was telling us: 'Darrent loved you guys. It would be very special if you guys keep Darrent in your hearts and play for him.' Here was a mom telling us it's OK to move on, that it's time to do something special."
The coaching message Shanahan can send throughout 2007 in ways all the X's and O's in his playbook cannot begin to describe?
It's impossible for Denver to forget D-Will. The memories will hurt, the tears will burn and the hardest questions will remain unanswered even if the cops catch his killer.
But, in his heart, Shanahan also knows the Broncos have permission to care about winning a football game with as much passion as they grieve a lost friend.
|02-07-2007, 04:50 AM||#2|
A new beginning!
Join Date: Aug 2006
Watermock - RIP
One of the few great articles I have read from Kizla. Thanks for posting that.