Touching tribute to Thomas

Thomas Herrion was remembered fondly Tuesday night during a touching memorial service attended by the entire 49ers organization and several NFL luminaries.

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, NFL players union executive director Gene Upshaw, 49ers patriarch Bill Walsh and several distinguished 49ers alumni were among the estimated 500 people who attended the private service at the Abundant Life Christian Fellowship church in Mountain View.

Several of Herrion's teammates either read prayers or gave testimonials on the joyful spirit possessed by the 23-year-old offensive lineman, who died suddenly late Saturday night after the 49ers' 26-21 preseason loss in Denver.

"An event like this with just the team helps get things right with each other," 49ers owner John York said after the service. "We tried to make some sense of the situation."

Local police led a procession to the Mountain View church, blocking off a section of Highway 101, about 15 minutes away from team headquarters in Santa Clara. Two large video screens were placed in the church to accommodate the large crowd, each of which had a photo of Herrion in his No. 72 49ers uniform. His white 49ers jersey also was on display along with flowers and several framed photos.

"Thomas lived a life we can all aspire to and learn from," 49ers assistant head coach/linebackers coach Mike Singletary told the crowd.

Defensive tackle Bryant Young, the senior member of the San Francisco roster, read a prayer and spoke glowingly of Herrion and the times the two spent together in Bible study.

"There are those things on which men have little influence," Young said. "The time of death and the time of birth."

Rookie receiver Fred Amey, who had developed a kinship with Herrion since joining the team as an undrafted free agent in May, said he was up until 6:30 in the morning Sunday after Herrion's shocking death the night before.

Unable to sleep long after the team had returned to the San Francisco Bay Area from Denver early Sunday morning, Amey went to the home of a friend who has a recording studio in the East Bay city of Hayward. There, Amey wrote a hip-hop tribute to Herrion and recorded it in less than an hour. The song was played during Tuesday's ceremony.

Team chaplain Earl Smith, who conducted the service, hugged Amey afterward, saying "It's amazing what talents these men have on this team."

Center Eric Heitmann, an accomplished pianist, played an original composition that was described as touching and very moving.

During an open microphone session, former University of Utah coach Ron McBride, 49ers noseguard Anthony Adams and others spoke.

"He would just sing all day," Adams said. "It's sad he had to go away. Sometimes, I'd get in my stance and I would just laugh because he's such a funny guy."

Herrion's older brother, 32-year-old Love Savior, also went to the microphone, trembling so much that Smith had to hold him while he spoke.

"It was instilled in him – togetherness," Love Savior said. "It was nothing but love. NFL commissioner, the 49ers, Utah, Kilgore (Junior College), Polytech (High School), projects. … He was loved, and you all accepted it."

Sarah McLachlan's enchanting tune, "I will remember you," played while scenes of Herrion as a 49er and at Utah played on the video screens above. On the video, Herrion's mother Janice said, "He was a good kid. I'm proud of the man he became. It was short-lived, but I'm proud."

Janice was in the front row next to Love Savior, and a long line passed by and expressed condolences to the family at the end of the service.

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

After the service, Tagliabue said the NFL will take measures to make sure the memory of Herrion and what his life stood for will live on.

"Dr. York has started two foundations," Tagliabue said. "We are going to see what we can do to make the dreams Thomas had become a reality in terms of education and helping kids – some of the things he would have done if he had lived."


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