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McKinley’s smile lives on in Broncos’ hearts

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  • McKinley’s smile lives on in Broncos’ hearts

    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP)—The empty locker that served as a shrine is now filled with another player’s belongings. Gone are the No. 11 helmet decals that his Denver Broncos teammates wore in Kenny McKinley’s honor after he committed suicide last year.

    The reminders that remain are a few photos in the locker room and the memories of an infectious smile that hid so much pain.

    Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of McKinley’s death.

    Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard said McKinley’s former teammates were remembering his gregarious personality and not the circumstances of his death.

    “That’s the only thing that everybody remembers: his big smile. He showed all 32 of his teeth,” Woodyard said. “So, it was just a wonderful thing to be around every day, seeing that smile, listening to that laugh, hearing those jokes. It was pretty good to have him around.”

    The second-year wide receiver from South Carolina was recovering from a second knee operation in eight months and was deep in debt, according to a probe of his death, when he put a gun to his head at his home not far from the Broncos’ training complex and ended his life at age 23.

    It was the third time in four years the Broncos had to deal with the stunning death of a teammate.

    Cornerback Darrent Williams, 24, died in a hail of gunfire in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day 2007 after a confrontation between Broncos players and gang members at a nightclub. Three months later, running back Damien Nash, 24, collapsed and died of a heart attack after he played in a charity basketball game to raise funds for his heart foundation.

    McKinley’s death cast a pall over the Broncos, who left his locker empty all of last season.

    Nobody wears his No. 11 jersey right now and his locker has been assigned to another young receiver.

    Reminders of him are everywhere, however.

    “Every day I walk by Matt Prater’s locker and I see Kenny’s picture up there,” Woodyard said. “We always miss him and his laughter and the joy that he brought, and it’s just a sad thing that he’s not here with us anymore. But I know he’s here in spirit.”

    As he is in Columbia, S.C., where McKinley remains the Gamecocks’ all-time leading receiver.

    “We still talk about him every now and then, when we’re running slants. I tell them, `Here’s how Kenny McKinley did it,’ Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said. “And I don’t remember him ever being covered. He got open every time because he had that little quick step that got him open and we’re trying to teach our guys how to run that also. We remember Kenny and he was an outstanding player here, no question.”

    This was a somber but not sad anniversary at the Broncos’ headquarters.

    Woodyard said the players who remain on the roster from McKinley’s one season in 2009 or who played in Denver last season—he re-injured his knee during the first week of training camp—are always recalling something funny that McKinley said or did.

    “We always think about him,” Woodyard said Monday. “Kenny was the type of guy that always wanted to make sure that everybody had a good day. So, every day you come to work, that’s the kind of attitude you have to have. You’ve got to take Kenny McKinley’s attitude: have fun and enjoy your work.

    “That’s something that we have to make sure we do every day to uplift his spirit.”

    AP Sports Writer Pete Iacobelli contributed from Columbia, S.C. Connect with AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton at

  • #2
    Can't believe it's been a year already. R.I.P Kenny.


    • #3
      Very sad, he is missed among his friends, teammates, fans, and most of all his family.

      Man could have been a star, he was a stud.
      Adopted Broncos:


      • #4
        It was nice to see that the Broncos had a moment of silence sunday in memory of him.