William Gay wasn’t fooled.
When the Cincinnati Bengals lined two offensive tackles up as wide outs, it looked like a trick play may be coming. But the tackles shifted back to their normal spot on the line, leaving two wide receivers on the Pittsburgh Steelers corner’s side of the field. Gay didn’t leave his position during the shift.
Quarterback AJ McCarron’s play action fake did not get Gay to bite. Instead, Gay held his ground when Mohammad Sanu ran a swing route. McCarron starred down Sanu and began his windup. As soon as the leather left McCarron’s hand Gay charged in front of Sanu and intercepted the lobbed pass.
No one stopped the Gay’s path to the end zone.
There is a reason Gay’s 23-yard interception return for a touchdown may have felt familiar; his last five interceptions have been pick-sixes. His latest interception that gave the Steelers a 23-6 third quarter lead tied Pro Football Hall of Famer Rod Woodson’s team record with five interceptions returned for a touchdown.
It was a reason for Gay to dance, and did he ever get down. Not even a 15-yard personal foul stopped his arms up, hip-swaying, foot shuffling moves that eventually turned into him dropping to his knees and shuffling to outside linebackers coach Joey Porter on the sideline.
Gay has had plenty to dance about in his NFL career.
The nine-year pro out of Louisville was never a fan favorite during his first stint with the team from 2007-2011. His return in 2013 from the Arizona Cardinals was not well received either.
Some of the criticism may have been justified.
When Gay started opposite Ike Taylor in 2009, Pro Football Focus rated him one of the worst starting cornerbacks in coverage that year.
But his performance has improved, and he has slowly become a key figure in the Steelers’ secondary. Gay typically lines up inside as a slot corner, but injuries and struggles from cornerbacks like Antwon Blake and Cortez Allen have forced Gay to play outside.
He hasn’t been a shutdown corner when lining up on the outside, but he is not giving up the big play either. He is not making headlines, but maybe it is best that a cornerback has quiet games because then they aren’t being picked on.
Head coach Mike Tomlin said he’s been “rock-solid” during Tomlin’s Nov. 22 press conference.
Gay brings more than just versatility, though. He showed off his football intelligence against the Bengals when he read their fake and Sanu’s route on Gay’s interception. The 30-year-old has also never missed a game in his career – 141 straight appearances.
But maybe the biggest thing Gay offers the Steelers is his character off the field.
The Steelers’ 2015 Ed Block Courage Award winner for displaying “grit, determination and drive to overcome the physical pain that came their way on the football field,” Gay has overcome more than just rowdy fans in his life.
When Gay was 7-years old, his mother was murdered by his stepfather, and he has used that experience to speak up about domestic violence.
In June, Gay wrote in The Player’s Tribune that he wants to use his status of a football player to speak out and make a difference. Gay said he wants people to know potential abusers always have a choice to avoid violence. He shared a story from college when he made a choice not to be violent toward a woman in a heated situation.
Gay frequents the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh to share his story and give victims of domestic violence hope. On Oct. 25, Gay wore purple cleats to honor his mother and to raise awareness for Domestic Violence Awareness Month and was fined $5,787 a few days later by the NFL for a uniform violation.
He told NFL.com he knew he would be fined. But that didn’t stop him.
Instead, he said he wanted the NFL to donate that fine to an organization dedicated to domestic abuse causes. He added that he wants the NFL to allow the players one week to where they can promote a cause of their choice. The NFL has yet to comply.
With Gay’s contract set to expire after the season, the Steelers are likely to make every attempt to retain one of their team leaders.
On the field, he has shown he has grown from his struggles early on in his career; off the field he has displayed how he uses a past traumatic event to help others.
Gay is making the most out of his time in the NFL. He deserves to dance about that.