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Memorial expected to draw thousands

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Bill Bates saw the talent and the passion
in Reggie White before nearly anyone else, back when they were
teammates at Tennessee more than 20 years ago.

"He was so raw then," Bates said. "The talent was there, he
just hadn't found it yet."

On Wednesday, Bates was one of the many mourners who streamed
into a funeral home to say farewell to the NFL great during a
public visitation. White died three days earlier at Presbyterian
Hospital in Huntersville, a northern suburb of Charlotte.

A preliminary autopsy report showed White might have died
because of a respiratory disease combined with other health
problems. Determining a final cause of death might take up to three
months.

Bates, a former safety with the Dallas Cowboys, played against
White for years in the NFL, but their friendship transcended the
game.

"Reggie was just a great person," Bates said. "Everyone knows
what kind of ambassador he was for the NFL. He was a fun-loving
guy."

White's family released a statement through spokesman and
confidant Shawn White thanking everyone for their support.

"Reggie lived the essence and the spirit of life by faith,"
the statement read. "The entire family and our extended families
have cherished and will continue to cherish every moment and memory
of him."

Mourners began lining up at A.L. Jinwright Funeral Service about
2½ hours before doors opened at 3 p.m., and fan Orlando Jenkins was
one of the first 10 through the door to view the open casket. He
donned a replica of White's No. 92 Green Bay Packers jersey, a
prized possession he handed down to his stepson a couple of weeks
ago.

On this day, Jenkins needed it back.

"He was a very positive man," Jenkins said. "Everybody knows
he was a minister, and he was trying to teach those other guys
about life. It's real sad."

A two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and ordained
minister who was known as the "Minister of Defense," White played
15 seasons with Philadelphia, Green Bay and Carolina. The
43-year-old retired after the 2000 season as the NFL's career sacks
leader with 198. The mark has since been passed by Bruce Smith.

A member of the NFL's 75th anniversary team, White was elected
to the Pro Bowl a record 13 straight times from 1986-98. He was the
NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 1987 and 1998.

Outside the funeral home -- the same one that held services for
Charlotte Hornets guard Bobby Phills and Panthers tailback Fred
Lane -- giant cards were set up for visitors to sign.

Harriet Jinwright, who runs the business with her husband, J.L.,
said authorities told her to expect between 5,000 and 8,000 people
to attend the viewing. A private funeral for White's family and
friends will be held Thursday at an undisclosed location.

Current Panthers players Brentson Buckner and Mike Minter didn't
plan to attend either service. Minter cited his game-week schedule,
while Buckner admitted he felt uncomfortable in that type of
setting.

"I'm just bad with things like that," he said after Carolina's
practice Wednesday. "My wife is going to go pay respects for us. I
want to go, but I'm not good with death."

Although White had already retired by the time Buckner joined
the Panthers, the two defensive linemen hit it off immediately when
they did meet.

"Being a fan of football, I can tell you everything about
him," Buckner said. "Him playing at the University of Tennessee,
in the USFL with the Memphis Showboats, with the Eagles and the
Packers.

"When I got a chance to meet him, I was just like a little
kid."