The most amazing thing about William Gay’s 11 seasons in the NFL is that in a brutal sport where the rules are bring changed to make play safer he has never missed a game. That’s 191 straight games, including the post-season.
On Monday, though, Gay said his streak would have ended long ago under the NFL’s current concussion protocol. Gay said that in a 2009 Week 13 game against the Oakland Raiders, his third season, he “went to sleep” and suffered a concussion when hit in the head by teammate Ryan Mundy while both were trying to break up a pass late in a game against the Oakland Raiders.
Four days later Gay, as usual, started in a Thursday game against the Cleveland Browns, saying he had passed concussion testing and was “fine.”
“If we had the rules, the concussion protocol that we have today, we wouldn’t even be talking about this,” Gay said, pointing to the league’s current 7-day protocol. “It could have been over just that fast.”
It wasn’t, though, and Gay said Monday that preparation and prayer have led to his good fortune.
“You just try to do things the right way, train your body, do all the cliche stuff, eat right, sleep right, drink enough water,” he said. “But at the end of the day when you step on these lines you just throw a prayer up in the air and hope nothing bad happens.”
The 33-year-old Gay will now bring his streak, and the wisdom gained over his long NFL career, to a New York Giants secondary that needs the help after subtracting both Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Ross Cockrell during the offseason. Let’s take a closer look at what the Giants are getting as we continue our player-by-player profiles of the team’s 90-man roster.
2017 season in review
Gay’s 10th season with the Pittsburgh Steelers — his career included a one-year layover with the Arizona Cardinals in 2012 — was his most difficult. For the first time since his 2007 rookie season, Gay was a spare part. He started only one game and played just 266 regular-season snaps, 16.6 per game.
It is hard to read that any other way than the Steelers phasing out an older player they drafted in the fifth round way back in 2007.
With Pittsburgh ready to move on from him following the 2017 season, Gay entered free agency and signed a one-year, $1.015 million deal with the Giants that includes $720,000 in guaranteed money.
It is “prove it” time all over again for the 33-year-old. Basically, he is with the Giants trying to prove he still belongs on the field.
“Since Day 1 that’s been my whole mentality. Wasn’t supposed to get drafted. Didn’t got to an All-Star game. Didn’t go to the Combine. Every time you just want to prove yourself year in and year out,” Gay said. “In this league I don’t care if you’re an older guy, younger guy, first round, undrafted, every day you step on this field you’ve gotta prove yourself. If you don’t have that mentality you’re going to be out of this league real early.”
Throughout the spring the Giants have utilized Gay as their first-team slot corner. He wants to and believes he can still do the job on the field, but he has also accepted the role of veteran mentor, shown Monday by his remarks regarding Eli Apple.
Talking to him, you understand that this is a man who simply loves the game and wants to be part of it.
“It’ll be anything,” he said of his role on the 2018 Giants. “If I need to give out water. That’s my mentality, it’s been my mentality my whole career. You help when needed. When my number’s called you gotta show up. That’s how you also stay in the league.
“Every day I come to work, man, it’s a blessing. I could be home on the couch.”
When the Giants were winning championships in the not-so-distant past their rosters were dotted with veteran players who were perhaps more valuable in the locker room and on the sideline than they were on the field. In 2007, R. W. McQuarters and Sam Madison come to mind. In 2011, players like Deon Grant and Dave Tollefson.
His work this spring is showing that Gay can still play, but perhaps his greatest contribution will be his enthusiasm for the job and his professionalism.
“To me I’m a player who comes to work ready. Dialed in each and every day and willing to do whatever it takes. A lot of people say that but don’t mean it, but as you see last year you could tell I mean it,” Gay said on Monday.
“People in my situation [last season] could have went left, could have not talked to the team, not being on the sideline. Knowing that you’re only going to play 15 plays but you’re still into the game, still into the game plan like a starter. That’s me because I love this game and I love my teammates and if I’m not out there I’m going to be out there some type of way, whether it’s on the sideline I’m getting adjustments for ‘em or when I do get out there I know exactly what’s going on in the game plan so now when you stick me out there I know the flow of the game. I take pride in that. It’s whatever you need Will to do Will is going to do it. That’s the type of guy I am, that’s the type of guy I’ve always been. That’s what you need on NFL teams to be great.“
And that attitude might be the biggest asset Gay brings to the 2018 Giants.