Saints players, coaches pay their respects at Will Smith memorial

ByMike Triplett ESPN logo
Saturday, April 16, 2016

METAIRIE, La. -- Dozens of Will Smith's former teammates and coaches, as well asSaints owners Tom and Gayle Benson and other executives, joined Smith's wife, Racquel, and three children Friday at a public visitation for the late defensive end inside the team practice facility.

Hundreds of fans walked through displays of videos, photos and replica lockers filled with Smith's gear from his days with the Saints, Ohio State Buckeyes and Proctor High School in Utica, New York.

Meanwhile, off to the side, a reunion sprang up in Smith's honor, including players who spanned multiple eras of Saints football: Steve Gleason, Deuce McAllister, Aaron Brooks, Donte' Stallworth, Charles Grant, Reggie Bush, Jonathan Vilma, Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Darren Sproles, Jermon Bushrod, Jonathan Goodwin, Malcolm Jenkins, Roman Harper, Sedrick Ellis, Jabari Greer, Cameron Jordan and many others. Many more, including Saints quarterback Drew Brees, will be on hand Saturday for a private funeral ceremony.

Guard Jahri Evans sported a Will Smith No. 91 jersey, and players hugged and shared old memories with one another, as well as with Smith's longtime coaches Sean Payton, Joe Vitt and Bill Johnson and general manager Mickey Loomis.

"That just goes to show you the impact he had," one former teammate said of the turnout.

One of the most poignant moments came when a fan stood before Smith's casket and played "When the Saints Goes Marching In" on a horned instrument. The music carried throughout the cavernous practice facility.

Also in attendance Friday were former Saints running back Pierre Thomas and former New Orleans police captain Billy Ceravolo, two of Smith's close friends who were out with him Saturday night, before he was shot and killed following a traffic incident in New Orleans' lower Garden District.

Thomas' emotion was evident, as it was in a recent Instagram post in which he expressed outrage and disbelief over what he said he witnessed.

It's still unclear if Thomas witnessed the dispute between Smith and shooter Cardell Hayes, which led to Smith's being shot eight times and Racquel's being shot twice in her legs. Thomas was on the scene shortly after the shooting occurred, and both he and Ceravolo will be central figures in the case against Hayes, who has been booked for second-degree murder and is currently being held on $1 million bond.

Hayes' attorney, John Fuller, filed subpoena requests Friday seeking testimony from both Thomas and Ceravolo for the preliminary hearing, which is scheduled for April 28.

Fuller has said his client was not the aggressor in the incident. He claimed that a witness described "untoward behavior" from a former NOPD officer on the scene after the shooting, though he has not identified that officer by name. Fuller issued a letter to New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu on Friday asking that the NOPD be withdrawn from the investigation.

Friday was a day filled with remembrances of both Smith and former Saints running back, scout and color commentator Hokie Gajan, who died Monday after a battle with cancer. Gajan's visitation and funeral were held earlier Friday and were attended by some of the same fans and members of the Saints organization who later attended Smith's visitation.

A digital display of Smith's No. 91 and Gajan's No. 46 was showcased on the side of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Brees tweeted a photo of the display later Friday.

In a local tradition, a second-line parade, in Smith's honor was planned by local businesses and musicians Friday night near the scene of Smith's shooting.

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