May 13, 2002
By JANIE McCAULEY
AP Sports Writer
SEATTLE (AP) - While Curtis Williams and Chucky Mullins never knew each other, the two defensive backs will be linked forever by cruel fate.
Both were paralyzed on Oct. 28, exactly 11 years apart. They both died on May 6, 18 months after they were injured.
"That's the irony of the whole thing," said Brad Gaines, the former Vanderbilt fullback hit by Mullins when the Mississippi player was hurt in Oxford, Miss., on Oct. 28, 1989.
"It's like somebody upstairs had something to do with it," Gaines said from his home in Nashville, Tenn.
Williams, playing for Washington, was injured attempting to make a tackle in a game against Stanford on Oct. 28, 2000. He died on May 6, the same day Gaines made an annual visit to Mullins' grave.
Williams' funeral in his hometown of Fresno, Calif., was on Monday. A memorial service for him is scheduled at the University of Washington on Tuesday night.
"I believe he's playing now," his brother, James Williams, told about 500 mourners who packed Northwest Church.
A Husky helmet, Williams' No. 25 jersey and pictures of him on the field flanked the altar, and a bouquet of purple and gold flowers - Washington's colors - covered his wooden casket.
Bobby Hauck, Williams' position coach, remembers Mullins' accident.
"I remember when he was injured, seeing it on TV and being kind of shocked by it," Hauck said. "When the comparison came out, I was really shocked. It's a pretty amazing coincidence."
Gaines makes a 400-mile trip to Mullins' hometown of Russellville, Ala., every Oct. 28 and May 6, and on Christmas.
Not a day goes by that he doesn't recall Mullins, who broke up a pass intended for Gaines on the 2-yard line when he shattered his spinal cord. Mullins' coach thought he was dead.
"He gave his life to save a touchdown," said Gaines, now 34 and the father of two young daughters and owner of two wellness centers.
Williams was attempting to tackle Stanford running back Kerry Carter when the defensive back was paralyzed from the neck down. Carter, who will be a senior on the Cardinal football team this year, hasn't spoken publicly about the accident since Williams' death.
"It's obviously a tragedy and we're very saddened by it," said Gary Migdol, Stanford's assistant athletic director. "We certainly wish all the best for the Williams family."
Ole Miss associate athletic director Langston Rogers can't believe another college football team is going through the pain he still feels, all from one horrific Saturday that's still so clear in his mind.
"Chucky was such a special person," Rogers said. "It's just hard to describe him. He was just a wonderful human being. When (Washington) had its loss, we certainly felt it, too."
The accident prompted Gaines to give up football.
A three-year starter with two brothers in the NFL, he left the Commodores' football team after his junior season and made himself eligible for the NFL draft. Gaines had led the Southeastern Conference in receptions.
When he wasn't drafted, he was relieved.
After Mullins was hurt, Gaines, one of five boys in a football family, struggled to sleep. He felt guilty.
Mullins had lost his mother at age 12 and never knew his father. Ole Miss officials say he arrived on campus only "with the shirt on his back."
Gaines first visited Mullins in the hospital two months after the injury. Ole Miss had just won the Liberty Bowl and about a hundred Rebels fans lined the hallway outside Mullins' room.
"I could feel the hate, and the people just parted and I could hear them say 'That's Brad Gaines,"' Gaines recalled. "The first thing he said to me was it was not my fault.
"He saw that I was hurting and he would not let me feel that way."
Rogers knows it will take time for Washington to cope with Williams' death. Hauck said it's too soon to say what the Huskies will do to honor their former teammate.
A bust of Mullins is pulled from the Ole Miss trophy case and brought to the locker room for every home game.
One defensive player receives the "Chucky Mullins Courage Award" each season. That person wears his No. 38 jersey the following fall.
Lanier Goethie, a senior linebacker from Baxley, Ga., will play for Mullins this season.
"It's a huge honor to wear this jersey," Rogers said. "It's such a responsibility to keep the memory of Chucky Mullins alive."
On The Net:
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