DENISON, TEX. -- Barbara Washington had carefully wrapped two sweaters, a pair of jeans and a bottle of cologne for her son to open this Christmas morning.

Fred Earl Washington Jr. never had a chance to unwrap them. He died at 23 in an automobile accident early Friday morning in Lake Forest, Ill.

But, his mother has decided, it is the thought that counts. And her thoughts, as well as those of more than 500 others who crammed into tiny Calvary Baptist Church, which seats 300 comfortably, were with the former Bears rookie defensive lineman during funeral services here on a somber Christmas Eve.

He was due to arrive at Dallas-Fort Worth airport at 6:30 p.m. last Sunday, and he was ticketed to return to Chicago at 8:30 Christmas night. He had sent gifts via United Parcel Service to his family in Denison.

"He sent all of them except mine, because he told me he knew I wouldn't act right," said Barbara Washington with a nervous laugh. "He said I would get into it before Christmas. He said I would have been wearing it when he got here.

"Hopefully, it will be business as usual this Christmas morning. The kids will get up, and we will just try to get through it.

"Christmas Day was always special to Fred. He thought he was supposed to be on the floor early to see what he got. He didn't like the shopping part, but he loved getting the gifts."

She smiled at the thought of Fred opening the box with the jeans she bought him.

"He would not have bought them for himself," she said. "These jeans are high-waisted. They turn down and have the belt loops. He would have said, 'Why did you buy me these things? You know I'm not wearing these.' "

Bears Players Go to Texas

On a crisp but sunny morning, Bears players Richard Dent, Terry Price, David Tate, James Rouse, Mickey Pruitt and Dante Jones attended the funeral.

"Richard Dent was really sweet, and I have to mention Terry Price and Gina Rouse, James' wife," said Barbara Washington. "She was a tremendous help. Her uncle owned the funeral home in Chicago that handled the memorial service the Bears held. I will be forever indebted to her."

The Bears' assistant equipment manager, Tony Medlin, team President Michael McCaskey and his father, board chairman Ed McCaskey, also were here to comfort the family of the promising second-round draft pick from Texas Christian.

A day after the Bears' 27-14 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the team presented a game ball to Barbara Washington with players' signatures and heartfelt condolences.

Ed McCaskey represented the Bears in eulogizing Fred Washington during the 1-hour-40-minute services officiated by the Rev. R.L. Williams. McCaskey told the family the Bears held a special memorial service for Washington in Lake Forest on Saturday that was attended by all the players.

He described how players spoke through tears, asking, "Why did it have to happen?"

"Only God knows that," said McCaskey.

Earlier, he handed Fred Washington's 6-year-old brother Anthony an "official NFL football" made of chocolate.

"Anthony will have that eaten in about five minutes," said Chrystal, 12, one of his three sisters.

Dozens of current and former TCU players were among the mourners, shedding tears, consoling family members and recalling the good times. Players from Washington's undefeated 1984 state championship Denison High School team were there. So was TCU Coach Jim Wacker.

Wacker said Washington was an inspirational leader on and off the field at TCU. "It was worth two touchdowns just to have Fred in the weight room during the offseason," said Wacker.

Tracy Simiens of the Kansas City Chiefs was also present. He roomed with Washington for two years at TCU. Washington's best friend and former college teammate, Buddy Wyatt, is considered part of the family. Washington's lawyer, Thomas Redwine, praised the "Bears family" for its thoughtfulness.

Former teammates and close friends served as pallbearers, including Wyatt, Erick Harper, Vance Hatfield, Leslie DeHorney, Tony Brown, David Roberts, Spence Redwine and Lester Riddick.

Derrick Cameron, now a medical school student, spoke eloquently about the impact Washington had on the turnaround in his life.

'No. 1 in Your Heart'

After the services, Washington was laid to rest at the Fairview Cemetery in Denison, some five miles from the church and 80 miles north of Dallas.

A banner attached to a spray of flowers on the side of the casket read: "Fred Washington, No. 91 on your program, but No. 1 in your heart."

That was a favorite saying of the Washington family, said his mother, who wore a banner bearing the same inscription.

Fred Washington was buried in the gray suit his mother bought him the day the Bears drafted him.

"His inspiration isn't dead," said Chrystal.

"I don't think Fred ever knowingly hurt anybody," Mrs. Washington said. "Even with his size, he didn't like people who picked on people and took advantage of their size. He always tried to treat people fair. He was a good kid. I want everybody to remember him for being the person he was. He was humble at a time when he could buy anything he wanted."

Bears Coach Mike Ditka called Barbara Washington and told her what a unique player and person her son was. "He said he never grumbled or complained," she said. "All that boy ever wanted to be is a football player."

Barbara Washington, whose steady disposition was inherited by her eldest son, has been down this heartbreak path before. She lost husband Fred Sr. in an auto accident in 1985. He also attended TCU and played briefly with the '68 Washington Redskins.

"Fred idolized his dad -- everything just kind of followed the same pattern," she said of the cruel irony. "I don't think about it much because when I do, I feel like they followed the same path for a reason.

"They both succeeded in whatever they tried, and they met the same end. I think there is something there, but I can't figure it out. I guess it is not meant for us to know. So to keep my own sanity, I am going to stop trying to figure it out."

She tried to smile through her tears as family and well-wishers extended condolences. Perhaps to ward off the sadness and grief, she conjured up anecdotes of her mischievous son, who grew to be 6 feet 2 inches tall and 277 pounds.

"He was an agitator," she said. "He was just a 4- or 5-year-old boy in a 23-year-old man's body. That is the way I remember him. He was just a little devil. And anytime I see something that is just a little off-center or hilarious, I will think of him. He had the weirdest sense of humor."

Fred Washington, who received his degree in criminal justice from TCU last May, was a conscientious student whose two most important goals were to graduate from college and play in the NFL.

"He was inducted into the National Honor Society when he was a junior in high school," his mother recalled. "One time he called me during his first year at TCU, and he was just distraught.

"I said: 'What's wrong?' He said: 'I can't do it. I'm not smart enough to be down here. I'm going to the junior college.'

"I said, 'No. You can do it. What's wrong?'

"He said: 'I made a D.'

"I said, 'Fred, you're a freshman. You are allowed one D. It was the first D he had ever made, and he was just wiped out."

Thoughts of Christmases past race through Barbara Washington's head.

"Fred always wanted a bicycle. He thought that bicycle could take wings and fly at any given second. He was about 10, and we got him this 10-speed. I can still hear that ringing in my ears. 'Mom, all I want is a 10-speed. All I want is a 10-speed . . . ' "

Mrs. Washington, who remarried after her first husband died, is especially concerned about the emotional welfare of young Anthony.

"Anthony's father and I have been divorced for a while," she said. "About 18 months ago, he just kind of disappeared. That was a real bad time for Anthony. Fred would tell Anthony, 'Don't worry. I don't have a daddy, either. We will just have to take care of each other. We got Momma. She will take care of all of us. And I will take care of you all.'

"That is the way Fred handled it."

Bears players have set up a fund to assist Mrs. Washington in providing an education for her children, including daughters Dee Anna, 22 and Ericka, 20.

Fred Washington and a female companion, Petra Stoll of Palatine, Ill., died in a one-car accident off Waukegan Road at about 2:30 a.m. Friday.

"I am a tad bitter because nobody called me," said Barbara Washington. "I woke up to my boss coming to my house telling me he had bad news, that my child was dead. This was 7:15 in the morning. It was all over the news. On the radio. Everywhere. And nobody had called me. I am not real happy with that part.

"They could have extended me the courtesy of calling me to let me know my baby is dead. The police could have called me, or somebody. I don't guess bitter is the word; I was just hurt."

'Momma, Don't Worry'

Talking about her son seemed to be good therapy for her.

"Fred was the kind who didn't let things get him down long. Tracy {Simiens} said, 'I can see Fred up there laughing right now. We're sitting around crying, and he is laughing.' That is just the kind of kid he was. He created confusion," his mother said.

"He promised me when he was a little boy . . . he said, 'Momma, don't worry, when I grow up, I am going to take care of you.' He bought me a house and a car. That was the kind of person he was. He loved his sisters and brother."

A legal assistant at the law firm of Redwine, Seidlits and Mayberry, Barbara Washington says she has to continue working to keep from falling apart.

"I have come to grips with this as best I can. I'm handling it, I think," she said.

"I am going to go up there {to his Lake Bluff apartment} and pick up his things Wednesday and sort of get things together. I will pick up his truck and say goodbye to some of the friends I made up there while he was there. I will try to get things settled."

She wished friends who had traveled many miles a "Merry Christmas" as they left the church. Finally, she was asked how she would like the Bears players and their fans to remember her son.

"Just remember him as a good kid who tried to succeed and did," she said. "And be very careful. Because 20 is such a vulnerable age. They think they know everything and they have got everything going for them. But just like that, it could be over."