I know that there are a number of Steelers fans who will see the signing of William Gay by the Arizona Cardinals as a boost to the Steelers secondary. I am not among the number that believe that to be so, but i do know that there is a faction out there that really wasn’t fan-friendly to seeing #22 line up on Sundays.
Regardless of your take on his skill-set, this i do know, Pittsburgh is losing a good dude.
William is a survivvor, a man who has risen above the catastrophic loss of his murdered mother at a very young age. Raised by his grandmother, William is a testament to hard work, dedication to his education and profession, and the love of a grandmother who would not let William become a statistic.
Not content to bury the burden of that experience in the recesses of his noodle and just move forward, William has been proactive in the fight against domestic abuse violence and has spoken out on the issue. William has mentored other young men who suffered as he did, and the biggest plays of his career may well be in the rear-view mirror of life and the impact that he has had on others.
William caught my eye early on as a rookie. In his very first appearance in a Steelers uniform, at the Hall-of-Fame game in Canton 2007 against the New Orleans Saints, he intercepted a pass. I remember interviewing William after the game for the Steelers Radio Network. I came away very impressed with his composure, humble-yet confident tone and his innate ability to comprehend my jumbolaya mind-set.
In ’09 William got the starting role at corner opposite Ike Taylor after Bryant McFadden left for Arizona. To be candid, William struggled, as many young men do when they first become a 1-16 guy. Anybody worth his NFL salt can fill in short term as a starter, it’s so much more difficult to “Be the man” week-in/week-out over the course of 20-some games a season.
Yet during that entire season, William, who took much public guff, never hid or faded under the hot light of public scrutiny. He always carried himself well, and was a stand-up guy throughout.
Fast forward to Saint Vincent College of 2010, and on the first day of camp, as i was enjoying the 5-star smorgasboard that the Steelers enjoy in today’s NFL version of training camp, i came face-to-face with William.
I was intrigued after all the negative press in the off-season about Will and had been wondering how he would handle the demotion with B-Mac brought back from Arizona to take the starting job. Sportswriters were writing him off as if he was already gone. Fans had made their voice apparent throughout the draft and OTA’s and i was more than a little curious to see if he folded up like a tent, or would he stand his ground and battle back?
After saying hi to William, i went straight to the heart of the matter.
“Are you ready to fight for a spot, or are you just playing it out?” i asked as i shook his hand and looked him close in the eye.
He didn’t blink, didn’t act offended nor did he offer excuse. William didn’t bluster in bravado, or over-reach in his assessment of where he was in his career. William didn’t respond as so many do in his situation by denying the obvious either. He simply re-affirmed his commitment to contend for a role in the secondary with a determined look in his eye that let me know i was getting the true spirit of the man.
William Gay, a fighter, an over-comer, a man who has been in tough times before and knew his way around a set-back or two.
Against all odds, William made the team, fought his way back to playing time, and eventually worked his way into a Deshea Townsend-type role. And in true Steelers fashion, William served as a great role model for the young up and coming corners who sought his tutelage.
Somebody else will wear William’s #22 this year for the Steelers, but i for one, am gonna miss a young man who it has been my privilege to watch battle for his career, and do so with a sense of humility and class that is all too lacking in today’s NFL.
And for the more important battle of mentoring young men to become over-comers, “Big Play William Gay” is a super-star in my book.