By far the biggest blow dealt to the Pittsburgh Steelers has an organization this year had nothing to do with a player moving to a different team. It was when they suddenly lost their wide receivers coach, Darryl Drake, in the early morning hours of a Sunday at Saint Vincent College, that shook the roster, and the rest of the franchise, to its core.
Even though some have questioned the ethics of its presentation, I think most of us have seen the images, of the first training camp practice after Drake passed, two days later in the rain. Players were clearly and visibly aggrieved, but there were a number of touching moments of consolation and comfort.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger played a critical role in that respect for a relatively young roster, especially at wide receiver.
But even he admitted that it wasn’t easy. Surely he of all people, or at least most, understand through life experience what loss is like. I know a couple of players on the roster such as Artie Burns and Ramon Foster have experienced the loss of a parent, but by the time you’re 37, you probably know what it’s like to lose some people who were close to you, perhaps both personally and professionally.
The quarterback was interviewed prior to Sunday night’s game, airing during halftime, and he was asked about that need to step up for his teammates during that time of need. And he admitted that it was difficult for him to do so in a place of grieving himself.
In one sense it takes a lot, because, I remember the first day I stood in front of them, I said, ‘I wish I could be stronger for you all’, fighting back tears. Like, I want to be a rock for you guys, but I don’t know if I can be that right now. So it was definitely tough, the night that we had a special thing in Latrobe for him, a kind of visitation thing. I got all of the receivers together and we just went up kind of out of the dorms and we just sat under this pavilion and we just kind of grieved and talked about it and told stories. Laughed. And it went from earlier that day crying to later in the day laughing, and that’s what he would want, and that’s what we wanted, and it was a special way for us to kind of heal.
— SNF on NBC (@SNFonNBC) August 26, 2019
Alejandro Villanueva previously said that Roethlisberger had a bit of a special relationship with Drake, whom we now know had a tremendous impact on the team well outside of the wide receiver room. There’s no doubt his death was tough on the quarterback.
But he’s also the leader of this team, both by virtue of the position he plays and the fact that he’s been here longer than anybody. It’s an unspoken job requirement that he be able to step up in such situations, unpredictable as they may be, and simply be there. And to his credit, he was, and continues to be there.