FRANKFURT, Germany – For the second time in his life, Matt Gay will set foot as a professional athlete on the pitch of a stadium home to one of Europe's top-flight football clubs. For the second time, he'll be playing football – just not the kind he trained most of his life to play.
The Colts' kicker, who spent his adolescence all the way through his early years in college playing football – er, soccer, for our American audience – always dreamed of playing somewhere like Frankfurt Stadium, home to the German Bundesliga side Einchract Frankfurt. He figured his route to a stage like this would be through soccer.
Instead, Gay will kick a ball not for a top-flight German club, but for the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday here in Frankfurt against the New England Patriots.
"It's a little coming full circle moment because my whole life was going that way and that's what I wanted to do the rest of my life," Gay said. "I'm gonna get there to get to do it, but playing a different sport."
Gay traveled to London with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2019 to play against the Carolina Panthers at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in a game that carried emotions both similar and different. Back then, Gay was only two years removed from a remarkable rise – he made the switch from soccer to football in 2017, walked on at Utah, won the Lou Groza Award and was picked in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. It didn't hurt that Gay supports Tottenham in the Premier League, too, adding a little extra to that game in 2019 at the (former) home of worldwide star Harry Kane.
Before switching from soccer to football, Gay wasn't just a soccer player – he was a good one. He was invited to participate at a U.S. Soccer residency academy in Florida, where he trained alongside current U.S. Men's National Team midfielder Kellyn Acosta. He led Utah Valley University in goals as a freshman.
But after returning from an LDS mission in 2015, Gay felt his future in soccer wasn't where he wanted it to be. So he decided to make the switch to football with one goal: "I'm going to do this to go to the NFL," Gay said.
Gay made it to the NFL, and in 2019 kicked in a stadium home to some of Europe's biggest matches. While he made a 54-yard field goal in that game, there was a difference between merely making the NFL and cementing his place in it. Gay missed eight field goals and five extra points as a rookie, and Tampa Bay moved on from him after the season.
The Colts were the first team to give Gay another shot, albeit on their practice squad in 2020 behind then-kicker Rodrigo Blankenship. The Los Angeles Rams signed Gay off the Colts' practice squad that year, and he's proved to be one of the NFL's most reliable and clutch kickers ever since.
So this weekend, Gay returns to Europe to play at a top-flight stadium with a shifted perspective on his NFL career. Maybe he's not playing in the stadium of his favorite club. But he's a bona fide football – sorry, American football – player now.
That doesn't mean, though, his connection to soccer isn't diminished.
"My kids watch me — I want them to play soccer, but they see me as a football player," Gay said. "That's what they watch dad do. So for me the last five years, I've been playing football and I haven't played a lot of soccer.
"So I think it's definitely a little bit different than my rookie year going over there and experiencing that. I think for me, just at heart, there's still something about soccer for me that hits home. It's still going to be a little bit giddy as far as the soccer style goes, but I think more so now I've just solidified myself as this is what I do, this is what I do, this is my job and this is my career.
"Now I'm definitely a football player, but there's definitely a little piece of me, the little kid in me, that's a soccer player always."