Defensive end Gaines Adams was remembered for his enormous talent, quiet humility and an amazing smile that drew people to him throughout his football career.
"They all talked about that smile," Tommy Bowden, Adams' college coach at Clemson, recalled Friday.
More than 1,000 family members, friends, fans and teammates gathered at Rock Springs Baptist Church to celebrate the life of Adams, the 26-year-old defensive end who died Sunday from an enlarged heart.
Adams was an All-American at Clemson and taken fourth overall by Tampa Bay in the 2007 NFL draft. Adams was traded to Chicago midway through this season.
It was not Adams' way to complain or worry over things that didn't go as planned. Bears coach Lovie Smith told the crowd that soon after the trade, Adams called to ask how he could best help his new team succeed.
"He came in like a man, ready to work," Smith said.
Bowden, who left the Tigers in 2008, said Adams always carried that positive demeanor, even during hot, summer workouts that left most Tigers griping.
"He smiled going down to practice, he smiled at practice, he smiled during stretches, he smiled after practice," Bowden said in his eulogy. "I thought something was wrong with him."
No, it was just Adams' approach to life.
Adams' first name, according to officiating pastor Sheldon Shipman of Greenville Memorial AME Zion Church, means "quiet, brilliant, nobility."
That was quickly evident to former NFL defensive back Merton Hanks, currently the league's director of football operations and development. Hanks was at the 2007 draft, handing out each players' new jersey after selections.
Adams stood out to Hanks as a thoughtful, humble person eager to succeed the right way.
"I left him with the sense that something great was going to happen," Hanks said.
Adams' friend and former Tigers teammate, Ray Ray McElrathbey, told the gathering that when he took on the challenge of raising younger brother Fahmarr, "Gaines was the first to ask me what he could do."
Several past and current teammates attended the service. The Bears contingent included linebacker Brian Urlacher, quarterback Jay Cutler, team owner Virginia McCaskey and her son, Michael, the team chairman.
Former Clemson teammates and NFL players Tye Hill, Justin Miller and Chansi Stuckey also were there. Calvin Johnson, the Detroit receiver who befriended Adams during the 2007 draft process, came as well.
Tampa Bay defensive line coach Todd Wash led a group of Buccaneers.
"Everybody knows he was a good football player," Wash said. "He was a better person."
Adams' casket stood in front of the stage in the sanctuary as mourners lined up for final goodbyes. Alongside was a portrait of Adams' in his Bears' No. 99.
Two video boards showed Adams at his most triumphant on the football field, sacking Florida State's Drew Weatherford in college, chasing Dallas' Tony Romo with Tampa Bay, and wrapping up Green Bay running back Ryan Grant as a Bears.
The presentation also flashed perhaps his most memorable collegiate play, the fumble he returned for a touchdown in 2006 against Wake Forest with the Demon Deacons ahead 17-3 and lined up for what seemed like a clinching score.
The Tigers would complete the comeback and win 27-17.
Bowden joked that play probably gained him a couple of more seasons as coach.
"About the only one who beat him down the sidelines was me," Bowden said.
Smith said Adams has already begun preparations for 2010 and the Bears had big hopes for their 6-foot-5 lineman.
"He wasn't with us long, but he'll be missed," Smith said.
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