The relationship that Hines Ward shared with Darryl Drake spanned nearly a quarter of a century, from the time that the latter was coaching at Georgia and the former was recruiting him, to come play with him. Though they would never find themselves again on the same sideline professionally, they remained close throughout the rest of Drake’s lift, up to his passing earlier this week.
“He was that father figure to me my whole life”, Ward told the Pittsburgh Steelers’ website in memorializing the man. It’s a similar sentiment that we have already heard from a number of people who felt so inclined to comment upon his death and share the memories of their own experiences with him.
Though their professional relationship was brief, it was profound, as Ward credited Drake with teaching him the game of football and of how to play the wide receiver position. He would end up getting drafted by the Steelers in the third round and retired as the franchise’s leader in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns, records that remain safe with Antonio Brown now out west. “He was always about blocking”, he added.
Though Drake spent most of his career in the NFL with the Chicago Bears and the Arizona Cardinals, their paths would nearly intersect after he was hired to be the Steelers’ wide receivers coach in 2018 following Richard Mann’s retirement. Ward had just served as a coaching intern the year before, and some speculated he could be in the running to take over the job himself. Many are now speculating that he will assume the role eventually in the wake of Drake’s passing.
And as you might guess, he played a role in Ward’s path toward entering the coaching ranks, as well. The wide receiver said, “he knew I had aspirations about coaching, and I asked him what made it worthwhile in his life. And he said, ‘coaching guys like you. To see you take the tools I taught you and apply it and go on to have a successful career’”.
You see, when you make a big impact on somebody’s life, that person likely is making an impact on you as well, whether you realize it or not. Drake gave an awful lot of himself to a lot of people, but he also got a lot back in return. I have no doubt that he loved what he did and he loved his life, and he died happy, albeit much too soon.
“I’m grateful for the relationship and bond we had”, Ward said. “I never had a relationship with any of my coaches that lasted that long. I will always be grateful for that”. It seems that a lot of people are coming to that realization over the course of the past few days.
Now, perhaps, he will follow in Drake’s footsteps. Ward is currently doing another coaching internship, this time with the New York Jets.