In this Sunday NFL Week 3 edition of 100 Days, 100 Detroit Lions, we pay tribute to the electrifying special teams performer who brought Silverdome crowds to their feet during the 1990s.
Kick Returner / Wide Receiver. 1989-94 Detroit; 1986-88 New Orleans Saints; 1995-96 Houston Oilers; 1997 Tennessee Titans; 1997 Philadelphia Eagles
Every time Mel Gray, all 5-foot-9, 167 pounds of him, returned a kick or punt he was a threat to score. Gray began his professional career in 1984 with the USFL’s Chicago Blitz. Mel chose to sign with them instead of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, who had also drafted the former Purdue University star. He would play two seasons in Chicago, rolling up a combined 2,075 yards (rushing, receiving, and kick returning), and join the Saints in 1986 after the USFL folded.
One of the most exciting players in Lion history came to Detroit in 1989 after a three-year stint in New Orleans. He would lead the Lions in kickoff returns in every one of his six-seasons. In addition, he would lead them in punt returns from 1990-94 after serving as a backup to Walter Stanley at the position in ‘89.
Mel’s best season came in 1991, when he led the NFL in punt return average (15.4), kickoff return yardage (929), and average (25.8). He would lead the league again in kickoff return average in 1994 (28.4), returning three of them to paydirt. He holds Detroit career-kickoff return records for returns (216), yardage (5,478), and touchdowns (5). He also holds the career-mark for punt return yardage (1,427). Mel’s aforementioned kickoff return average of 28.36 in 1994 is also the Lion record for a single-season. Gray would earn four Pro Bowl trips during his Lion career (1990-92, 1994). He would also earn All-Pro honors three-times (1990-91, ‘94).