Praise the football gods now that the NFL regular season has started. However, in the midst of our joy, the Pittsburgh Steelers are dealing with a feeling of great and sudden sorrow. Wide Receiver coach Darryl Drake passed away suddenly at the age of 62 on August 11th. Let’s look at his legacy as well as how the Steelers may be able to move on from this shock.
Darryl Drake; How the Steelers Move on With Heavy Hearts
Talent From the Get-Go
Darryl Drake was not only a great and influential part of the Steelers, but he also touched every team he was a part of, starting with playing as a wide receiver in college for Western Kentucky University for three years. After college, he played for multiple NFL teams including the Washington Redskins, and the Cincinnati Bengals while also having a stint in between those teams on the CFL team, the Ottawa Rough Riders.
After his playing career ended, he went back to college as a coach and coached at that level for 21 years, helping many young players hone their skills. He eventually moved on to the NFL where he spent nine years as a wide receivers coach for the Chicago Bears and Arizona Cardinals before joining the Steelers in 2018.
Short But Influential Time
Even though he wasn’t on the Steelers for long, he made a measurable and deeply felt impact on the team and its players. It was under his suggestions that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger take a more active role, participating in meetings with the wide receivers to improve communication.
He also had an enormous impact on players themselves. Ju-Ju Smith Schuster, being a young up and coming star, was taken under Drake’s wing and taught how to make his place on not only a high profile team but on a team with other superstars. With Drake’s coaching, he made a strong place for himself in the line-up, solidifying a place with the current and future of the team.
Pulling Together as a Team
Coach Mike Tomlin knew that his team needed time to absorb what happened after Drake’s passing. He canceled Sunday practice, giving players and himself time to deal with their emotions. When players came back to the practice field, the photographers who were there almost felt as if they were intruding. However, at the same time, they knew that Drake was a coach that would want his team to move on. Documenting how they pulled together to get each other through this painful time was also a testament to him.
The look on Smith-Schuster’s face as he sat looking at the field said more than any words could. The prayer circle of the entire team on their knee, holding each other and praying with each other had a vibe that was almost tangible. The sight of Roethlisberger sitting on a bench with Smith-Schuster looked like a big brother taking care of a grieving family member. All of these things added together will also push the team to want to win to honor a man whose presence is still felt.
Onward to the Beginning of the Season
Coach Darryl Drake not only leaves a grieving team behind but also his loving wife and daughters. All who knew him remark what a devoted family man he was. It is obvious by the love he has from players. That the love he showed his family he also showed his players.
No one can be prepared for losing someone close to you, especially so suddenly and unexpectedly. But the love the team has for him and for each other will help lessen the pain somewhat as they head into an emotional season. Rest assured, wins will be desired for his honor as well as post-season goals.
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