Gone, but heart-ly forgotten

IAN BUSBY, CALGARY SUN

, Last Updated: 8:59 AM ET

When Lenny Walls arrived in Calgary, he wanted to wear No. 27 with the Stampeders to honour his late friend and former teammate.

But that digit already belonged to another pal, Brandon Browner, who is wearing it in memory of former Denver Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams as well.

It doesn't matter that much to Walls, who instead took No. 35 with the Stamps. The defensive back will honour Williams forever with a tattoo above his heart, which is still heavy with emotion about the incident nearly 21 months ago.

Williams was shot to death outside a Denver nightclub in the wee hours of New Year's Day 2007 following the Broncos' final regular-season game.

Not a day goes by when Walls doesn't think about him.

"Me and him were super close," Walls said. "He was like a little brother to me.

"I miss him like crazy. He was a heck of a football player and a great young man. He was probably the toughest guy with the biggest heart I've ever seen play cornerback."

Walls, who arrived in Calgary three weeks ago and will suit up for his first game tomorrow against the Saskatchewan Roughriders, was a three-year NFL veteran when Williams was drafted by the Broncos.

Browner was also there, but the second-year Stamp broke his arm in training camp and spent the entire season on the injured list.

Despite the fact Walls and Williams battled for playing time, they became the best of friends.

Within days of training camp opening, Williams found an apartment two blocks away from where Walls was living and the two were inseparable from then on.

"A year seems short, but I was with that guy most of the day, from the start of work until long afterwards," Walls said. "We built a strong relationship."

A month into the 2005 NFL season, Williams stepped in to replace Walls as Denver's starting cornerback, but that did nothing to hurt their friendship, even when Walls left after the season to sign a deal with the division-rival Kansas City Chiefs.

"He ended up taking over my job," Walls said. "I started three or four games and I wasn't playing up to par.

"I had dealt with some injuries the year before. That's why my play wasn't where it was, not to give any excuses. He did take over on the other side of Champ (Bailey), but he was good enough to do it.

"I love that dude and I wish he was still here. I'm going to continue playing for him."

Walls grew up in what he calls a 'rough area' of San Francisco, where a lot of people he knew were selling drugs or getting in trouble with the law.

He battled through it with athletics, went to Boston College on a football scholarship and then made the Broncos as an undrafted free agent in 2002.

Walls, who says he had guns pointed at him numerous times growing up, hoped all the scary incidents one can walk into in a bad neighbourhood were behind him.

But the 29-year-old found out once you get to the pros, there are people out there who are jealous of your money and success.

Williams was with Broncos teammates the night he was killed and died in the arms of wide receiver Javon Walker after the limo they were in was hit with 15 bullets.

A 25-year-old man was indicted this week on first-degree murder charges and faces 39 counts of various crimes.

The news just brought up more bad memories for Walls.

"You never ever forget it," Walls said. "Losing Darrent changed my life.

"It changes how I act when I go out. I'm always more cautious now. There a lot of guys out there who are envious of us because we play ball, make a certain amount of money or attract certain girls.

"It's stupid, but you have to survive out there."

When the incident occurred, Walls was with the Chiefs and couldn't join his former Broncos teammates for Williams' funeral.

The two had already made plans on a vacation for February, but Walls distinctly remembers the last time he saw his friend in person.

"We had reservations to go to Las Vegas on (NBA) all-star weekend," Walls said.

"We played at home to Denver on Thanksgiving night and I talked to him for an hour before he got on the bus.

"That was the last time I saw him."


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