This is the first in a series of six columns for The Buffalo News by Janine Talley, wife of Bills great Darryl Talley.
Since Tim Graham’s feature story, “Broke and Broken,” ran in this paper in November, disclosing Darryl Talley’s physical decline, battle with depression and subsequent financial ruin, concerned friends and fans have inquired as to where we are today in Darryl’s journey to well-being.
Before I get there, I need to give you some background.
When I met Darryl in 1981 at West Virginia University, I was 18 to his 21. His quirky ways and how he enjoyed even the smallest things life had to offer is what initially attracted me to him; he really did live his life on the sunny side of the street. We took walks at night through the neighborhood that nestled behind our dorms, eating licorice and talking about the future. Professional football for Darryl wasn’t a given, and he figured maybe he’d go back to Cleveland after graduation and put his physical education degree to use as a high school coach. Thirty-four years later, I was having days when I wished that would’ve happened. That way I wouldn’t have to hear a man I hardly recognized roar like a monster, mired in a haze of self-perceived failure when he was used to success. I’ve always likened Darryl to an iceberg and now that iceberg was melting. His state was crushing our 34-year relationship. It’s painful to watch someone you love deteriorate and not have the tools to help them.
Darryl talked about a subject that isn’t easy for him, his own struggle with depression. He took the step when I was finally able to convince him that he had no clarity. It was like he was swimming in oatmeal. He couldn’t order from a McDonald’s menu, let alone make prudent business decisions. Darryl was team captain for many years with the Buffalo Bills and called most of the defensive plays, a skill that required repetitive split-second decision-making. Now he can’t decide if he wants bacon or sausage with his eggs.
His hope was that if he opened a discussion about the illnesses that are affecting his quality of life and the lives of so many former NFL players, an unexpected face could now be associated with what’s becoming an epidemic for retired players of his age and beyond.
Now we’re here, fortunate that Darryl was able to be included in a pioneering program initiated by the NFLPA to diagnose and treat injuries and illnesses of retired players. Under the direction of Dr. Ross Zafonte, Darryl gained access to world-class health care at Massachusetts General Hospital. Currently, we’re focusing on what’s immediately treatable for Darryl and in the future, once he’s mentally ready, he will have some surgical procedures. He’s been receptive to all of his doctors’ physical diagnoses and therapies, while the psychological side caused a challenge. Once Darryl was diagnosed with depression, he saw his need for an anti-depressant as a sign of weakness and wasn’t open to taking it. With a lot of coaxing and promises of relief, the fine staff in Boston finally convinced Darryl to try the medicine. Within weeks I noticed an improvement in his mood and clarity in his thinking that had eluded him for years. Now after three months the medicine has slowly peeled back the mask Darryl was wearing to reveal his former-self: him.
The reaction to our financial circumstance and the aid that resulted from Frank Croisdale’s idea of a GoFundMe campaign was incomprehensible. Initially, we were adamant in not accepting the money; we were embarrassed. Darryl has enormous pride and our goal with the article wasn’t donations from the public. After seeking the guidance of friends, and coming to the realization that we had become a thin, dermis layer of our prior selves, it was apparent that if we wanted to get out of the hell we hovered just north of, we had to accept the money that was so graciously given. The real jackpots though, were the comments left on the pages of GoFundMe, Facebook and Twitter by people who got our story; friends, acquaintances and strangers left thoughtful, treasured words of encouragement that still echo.
Finally, I am happy to inform that the Bills, under new ownership, reached out to Darryl in April, offering an ambassadorship. Darryl proudly accepted and is thrilled to be a part of the organization again. The Bills have no idea how much that gesture gave Darryl a sense of purpose again.
Here’s to new beginnings for ourselves, for the Buffalo Bills and most importantly for the fans of Western New York.