Photo courtesy of the Detroit Lions
When the Lions were battling for the NFC Central title each season during the early 1990s, all seemed to focus on the incredible game-breaking abilities of RB Barry Sanders. However, the Lions possessed one of the deadliest kick returners in KR Mel Gray. He proved he could take the ball to the house as both a punt returner and kickoff returner every time he touched the ball. 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.
He 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 (1991-93, 1995) with the Lions, and he was named All-Pro by several publications in each season from 1990-94.
Gray’s timing on returns was also spectacular. In 1991, as the Lions (10-4 at the time) were gunning for a NFC Central crown, Detroit was in a close battle at Green Bay December 15. The Lions clung onto a slim 14-10 lead at Lambeau Field, and Gray put the game out of reach with his longest punt return in Honolulu Blue and Silver with a 78-yard return for touchdown with 4:40 left to play in the fourth. This play was one of the many great memories during the team’s greatest season since their 1957 title.
In 1994, he returned his longest kickoff for a touchdown as a Lion with a 102-yard return for a score against Chicago October 24. That season, he also returned 98-yard and 91-yard kickoffs for touchdowns. When he left the game in 1997, after 12 seasons in pro football, Gray was atop several all-time NFL records for kick returns.
Gray's Career Lions' Stats
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