My auntie’s name was Alice, but everyone in my family always called her Peaches, because she was sweet like a peach.
When I was 11 years old, she came over to my house in her Camaro and asked if I wanted to drive it. Peaches was definitely the “cool aunt” in our family. I remember that car so distinctly — it was a 1989 Z-28 IROC. I got behind the wheel on my empty street, and she asked if I’d ever driven a Camaro before. “Yeah,” I lied, before barely stepping on the gas. The car gave a huge jolt and we flew forward a few yards before she screamed to hit the brakes. We were both silent for a beat and before she said, “You can try this again one day, but only if I’m not in the car.”
My auntie was hilarious, she was caring and she bought her kids all the best video game systems, which made going to her house well worth the two-hour bike ride it took to get there. My brother and I made the trip all the time. She was just the type of person who made sure everyone around her was happy.
When Bryan came into her life and they got together, she became an even better person.
I didn’t know him as well as the rest of my family did because I was in college at the time she met him. But it was clear that he treated my auntie very well, she’d never been happier. Whenever I came home from school, he would always make a point to tell me how proud he was of me. It meant a lot coming from him, because he was a cop and someone I really respected.
When I started playing in the NFL, Peaches and Bryan were two of my biggest fans. They weren’t big travelers, but every year they would trek to several road games just to cheer me on. Having them around always put me in a better mood.
At the beginning of the 2012 season, my auntie made it clear that when the 49ers made it to the Super Bowl (not if, but when), she and Bryan wanted to be at the game. True to her word, right after we won the NFC championship, she gave me a call to reserve her tickets. I was more than happy to oblige.
The Super Bowl was being played in New Orleans that year, so we definitely had some fun during the week leading up to the game. Making it to the NFL was a dream I had shared with Peaches since I was little, and this was our celebration.
The day before the game, we had a practice and I got to take Peaches and Bryan onto the field. They were really excited to meet all the players and the coaches, and the smiles they had on their faces still stick with me. I knew it was an experience that they really treasured, and it’s difficult to put into words the pride I felt in being able to share that moment with them.
After the game, the team flew back to San Francisco from New Orleans.
When we landed I turned on my phone to discover that I had 100 missed calls. This was odd, but I had just lost the Super Bowl, so I assumed the calls were about the game.
While we were taxiing on the ground, my mom called, and when I picked up she was crying.
“What happened?” I asked.
“Peaches is dead.”
I told her that there was no way — I had just seen Peaches. But my mom told me that she had been trying to call her since last night and couldn’t get through. My auntie always picked up the phone, no matter what. But even when her kids were calling her, she wasn’t answering.
My mom had learned that there had been a deadly car accident on the freeway after the game, involving a drunk driver. The police couldn’t identify the bodies in the car that was struck because it had caught on fire.
The team was supposed to head back to the 49ers facilities, but I told Jim Harbaugh that I had to catch a flight back to Los Angeles to be with my family.
There was a lot of uncertainty and confusion as we tried to figure out what was going on. I have to give the NFL credit for helping us gather information after learning about the situation. We eventually were told that there was a male and a female passenger in the vehicle that had caught fire. A few more hours went by, and then we were informed that they found a badge in the car.
It belonged to Bryan.
My entire family immediately broke down. I wanted to cry, but I felt like I needed to stay strong for everyone else.
I reflect on what happened to Peaches and Bryan every day. It’s truly never far from my thoughts. I torture myself thinking about what I could have done differently.
What if I had made them stay somewhere closer to the stadium?
What if I had told them that they could stay in my room?
What if they had not come to the Super Bowl at all?
I wish I didn’t reflect on these scenarios, but I don’t have a choice. The person who was drunk and decided to get behind the wheel did.
For a long time after the accident, I kept all my feelings inside. I was consumed by sadness and anger. But eventually I learned that the only thing that helped me heal was talking about it. Sharing my story and expressing the devastation my family has felt because of this tragedy is the only way I can potentially stop this from happening to someone else. It’s the only way that something good can come from the most difficult experience of my life.
Two of the most popular things in America are beer and football, and oftentimes they’re consumed together. I understand that there’s nothing I can do to stop that. But all I ask is that if you do choose to drink at a sporting event, have a plan.
The term “drink responsibly” is often used, but truly consider what that means. Consider the choice that you’re making when you don’t do so. If it’s not enough to imagine the potential danger you cause yourself, think about the people closest to you in your life.
Take a moment right now to think about them.
OK, now imagine if you were to lose them this instant, without so much as a goodbye.
That’s the hurt that you’re deciding to potentially impose on somebody else when you make the decision to drive under the influence of alcohol.
It’s too late to help my family — we’ve already experienced our nightmare. But I want to do everything in my power to stop another family from getting a phone call that changes their lives forever.
Delanie Walker is currently a tight end for the Tennessee Titans. He is also a spokesperson for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, for which he devotes his time in memory of Alice and Bryan Young. You can learn more about MADD by visiting www.MADD.org.
Photographs By Jed Jacobsohn/The Players’ Tribune