- This page refers to the Detroit Lions kick returner. For the St. Louis Cardinals wide receiver, see Mel Gray.
|No. 23, 21, 37|
|Born:||March 16, 1961|
|High school:||Williamsburg (VA) Lafayette|
|Supplemental draft:||1984 / Round: 2|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Career NFL statistics|
|Player stats at PFR|
Melvin Junius Gray (born March 16, 1961) is a former American football kickoff returner in the National Football League (NFL). He played with the New Orleans Saints, Detroit Lions, Houston Oilers and Philadelphia Eagles. He began his professional career for the Los Angeles Express of the United States Football League (USFL), following his college football career as a running back at Purdue. Gray attended Lafayette High School in Williamsburg, Virginia, where he was teammates with future NFL players Lawrence Taylor and Ron Springs.
Gray is widely considered to be one of the greatest return specialists of all-time in the NFL. He holds the record for being the first, second, and third-oldest player to return a kickoff for a touchdown (33 years, 276 days; 33 years, 235 days; and 33 years, 221 days).
Gray was selected by the Chicago Blitz in the 7th round (133rd overall) of the 1984 USFL Draft. He was later traded to the Los Angeles Express. In 1984, Gray scored the game-winning touchdown in the divisional playoffs against the Michigan Panthers. Gray broke his arm on the touchdown. The game lasted 4 hours, 3 minutes, went to 3 overtimes and became the longest pro football game in football history.
After the USFL folded in August 1986, Gray joined the New Orleans Saints who drafted him in the 1984 NFL Supplemental Draft of USFL and CFL players.
Gray is most recognized for his time with the Detroit Lions. The Lions were in contention for the NFC Central title each season during the early 1990s—teams that featured the running back Barry Sanders. However, Gray was an integral part of a dominant Lions' special teams group that proved to be instrumental to the team's success during that era. In six seasons with the Lions (1989–94), Gray played in 84 games and returned 216 kickoffs for 5,478 yards (25.4 avg) and registered five touchdowns, and he returned 132 punts for 1,427 yards (10.8 avg) and had two touchdowns.
Gray is the franchise's all-time leader in career kickoff returns (216), career kickoff return yards (5,478), career kickoff returns for touchdowns (5), most kickoff returns for touchdowns in a season (3, 1994), highest kickoff return average in a season (28.36, 1994) and career punt return yards (1,427). His seven total returns for touchdowns (5 kickoff return and 2 punt returns) ranks third all-time in team history. Gray was a four-time Pro Bowl selection in Detroit (1991–93, 1995), and he was named All-Pro by numerous publications in each season from 1990–94. In 1994, he returned his longest kickoff for a touchdown as a Lion with a 102-yard return for a score against Chicago on October 24. That season, he also returned 98-yard and 91-yard kickoffs for touchdowns.
Gray played the 1995 and 1996 seasons for the Houston Oilers. In Week 6 of 1996 against the Cincinnati Bengals, he returned 5 kickoffs for 177 yards and 3 punts for 86 yards; the 263 total return yards remains tied Billy "White Shoes" Johnson for the franchise record as of 2019. When he left the game in 1997, after 12 seasons in pro football, Gray was atop several all-time NFL kick return lists. Gray was ranked fifth as one of greatest return specialists on NFL Network's NFL Top 10 Return Aces.