Many have been coming forward and reflecting upon their time spent with Darryl Drake over the course of the past few days, as is the pattern when somebody passes away. But it’s really been striking to see just how much of an impact Drake has had within the Pittsburgh Steelers organization over a relatively short duration, first being hired ahead of the 2018 season.
In fact, from the sounds of it, he never had a large impact than at the end of the 2018 season, as relayed through a story shared by Darrius Heyward-Bey the day after his passing. He said that during the final week of the season, following weeks of ups and downs, and culminating in Antonio Brown walking out on the team, it was Drake who united the locker room again.
It’s a story that Mike Hilton echoed as well. Drake stayed behind in the locker room after Mike Tomlin addressed the players, saying that he had a few words for the group that he wanted to share. And that message sat well with the entire team, far beyond the impact of the wide receiver room.
“It had a big impact”, Teresa Varley quotes Hilton as saying, via the team’s website. “One of our coaches, not being Coach Tomlin, him sitting in front of the team really just talking to us. It was big. That showed a lot of his character. The way he can mentor and teach people. A great, genuine guy”.
The fact that he felt comfortable playing that role on a team to which he was still new—even if he was coaching young men for over 35 years—says a lot about simply the kind of person he is and the kind of influence he wants to be able to have on others to affect positive change.
“What he said was right. It’s no lie”, Hilton went on to say about the message with which Drake left his men in that impromptu players’ meeting. “We are all we’ve got. We have to comfort each other. We have to build each other back up. We have to focus in now, but we will always remember Coach Drake”.
The interesting thing about this entire process is that the messages Drake has communicated to the locker room over the course of his year and a half influence should help them move on and focus on football without him now that he’s gone.
It won’t be the same. It certainly won’t be easy. But they still have each other, and it is the business that must be taken care of. The only way past it is through it, and so they will put their heads down and get to work, take their lessons learned from Drake, and try to honor his memory by producing on the field.