PITTSBURGH -- The game was over, the New York Jets were staring at an ugly 1-4 hole and receiver Brandon Marshall stayed on the field, surveying the mass of bumblebee-striped uniforms. Finally finding the one topped by the pink-tipped braids, he broke into a grin. And took off his shoes. Right there, in the center of Heinz Field.
As the NFL opens its 8th annual Breast Cancer Awareness October, Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams remains the face of the initiative. He's lost his mother and four aunts to the disease, he is the player the NFL again asked to film a PSA exhorting football fans to help the women in their lives create time for mammograms and he is the man Marshall handed his sweaty, grass-covered pink cleats to.
Next to the "I play for __" stamped on by Under Armour, Marshall had penned in the names of Williams and his late mother, Sandra Hill, who passed away after a decade-long battle with breast cancer in 2014. Before the two AFC teams met Sunday, he asked Williams if that was OK, and then said he would like Williams to take the game-worn cleats and auction them off, a small donation toward the 33-year old back's mission to make mammograms free for all American women.
"It's because 'D' and Miss Sandra Hill gave the league the inspiration to let us wear pink," Marshall said as he walked toward the Jets bus, eager to talk about his shoes and not the 31-13 drubbing the Jets had suffered. "He gave me his blessing and so today I played in his honor and his mother's honor."
A Pittsburgh-native, Marshall played at Central Florida at the same time DeAngelo Williams was at Conference-USA-mate Memphis. They knew each other in passing and both were drafted in 2006, but Williams had always made an impression on Marshall, the Jets player said Sunday, because of his magnanimity.
"He was the best player in the conference. Really, the best player in the country," Marshall said. "But he always treated me like I was."
Williams quietly walked out of the Steelers' locker room, holding his own pink cleats in one hand, Marshall's in the other. He was visibly moved by the gesture, and more so by Marshall's last words to him.
"Hopefully they raise money," Marshall said. "They just need to raise money."