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William Gay made a career for himself with the Steelers, something that should be commended

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Willie Gay had a respectable career with the Steelers. Given how his time in Pittsburgh started, that's to be commended.

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Former Steelers cornerback William Gay took to social media Monday night to announce his impending release, bringing to an end a career in Pittsburgh that, about eight years ago, nobody could have predicted would turn out to be so respectable.

Gay, a fifth round pick out of Louisville in the 2007 NFL Draft, first came to the consciousness of Steeler fans near the end of the 2008 season, when he was the young corner who intercepted a last-gasp Joe Flacco pass in the end zone, effectively clinching the AFC North title.

This play—one that wasn't nearly as dramatic as the footwork receiver Santonio Holmes displayed when he caught the go-ahead touchdown pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger moments earlier—prompted head coach Mike Tomlin to greet Gay in the tunnel of M&T Bank Stadium with chants of "Big Play Willie Gay!", an act that was essentially an endorsement of Gay's rise from young corner, to future starter, what with the expected departure of Bryant McFadden, who would go on to sign a free agent deal with the Cardinals months later.

Speaking of the Cardinals, not long after Pittsburgh's victory over Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII, Gay was the guy at the parade doing the Lil' Jon impression: "Pittsburgh just won the Super Bowl, here we go! YEAH!!!!!!"

Unfortunately, in 2009, many fans were asking Gay "WHAAAT! are you covering? The grass? Okay!"

That's right, the 2009 version of Willie Gay was far from the 2003 version of Lil' Jon.

In fact, the Steelers seemed so hellbent on eradicating their decision to hand the starting corner keys over to Gay, they went out and reacquired McFadden in a trade with Arizona during the 2010 NFL Draft weekend.

Perhaps Gay's lowest moment—a moment that would brand him one of the most hated sports figures in Pittsburgh for a time—came late in the 2010 season, when Patriots rookie Rob Gronkowski, just embarking on a career that would soon see him become the most physically dominant tight end in NFL history, victimized Gay—at this point a slot corner behind McFadden—on three touchdowns in a blowout loss on Sunday Night Football at Heinz Field.

In 2011, injuries forced McFadden to the bench and Gay to the top of the depth chart, and he started 15 games at cornerback.

Even amid the constant backlash from the fans, it was quite apparent Gay's skills had improved under the tutelage of new secondary coach Carnell Lake.

Gay had improved his play so much in 2011—his stat-line included 14 passes defensed and two interceptions—he was able to parlay his performance into a new contract with the Cardinals the following spring—much to the chagrin of at least some Steelers fans.

Much like McFadden three years earlier, Gay found his time in Arizona to be less than ideal, and after being released, he was back in Pittsburgh for the 2013 campaign.

Gay would go on to start 40 games at corner over the next three years, ultimately ascending to the number one corner spot by the 2015 season.

And on December 13, 2015, in a game against the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium, Gay set an NFL record by returning his fifth-straight interception for a touchdown.

Some might say Gay's rise to top corner was more by default than anything else, and they'd probably be right.

Honestly, Gay's skill-set always translated much better to the slot position. But the bulk of his career in Pittsburgh seemed to coincide with the Steelers inability to find competent starters, leaving No. 22 as one of the top choices to play on the outside.

And Gay made the most of it, appearing in every single game in his 10 years in Pittsburgh (and every single game of his 11-year career, if you count his one season with the Cardinals).

Gay's 10 years in Pittsburgh understandably pale in comparison to Rod Woodson's 10 seasons in black and gold. But when you're talking about pick-sixes, No. 22 and No. 26 currently stand neck-and-neck at the top of the Steelers' record book with five apiece.

During Gay's time in Pittsburgh, he transformed from a young, immature player imitating Lil' Jon, to a respected, heady veteran, who became an outspoken advocate against domestic violence.

No, Willie Gay never had a great career with the Steelers, but he did have a respectable one.

And given how it started, that's saying a lot.