Mel Gray was an all-decade kick and punt returner, but he’s not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame … and he’s not alone. There’s not one all-decade returner in Canton, including Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, who made two all-decade teams (the 1970s and ’80s) and was named to the NFL’s 75th anniversary team.
Yet he’s the only member of that anniversary squad left out of Canton.
“It’s a shame,” said Gray on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast, “because you’re talking about the guys that created some great memories within the NFL. You’re talking about some of the biggest plays that have been made. Some of the most exciting moments in football history have been made by returners. Great players like Johnson, (Brian) Mitchell, Rick Upchurch. to name a few.”
And, of course, Mel Gray.
So we asked Gray to cast his vote. Essentially, this was the question: If he were to select one returner for induction — other than himself, of course — who would it be?
“One specialist other than myself… it would be … it’s hard,” he said. “Rick Upchurch … I grew up watching him. Made some great players. Brian Mitchell was a force out there. He made a lot of tough plays. It was unbelievable how he made his plays because he pretty much forced his way through because he was so big and so strong.”
So those are two. But we asked for one.
“If I were to choose one, other than myself,” he said, “it would probably be Brian Mitchell because he did it consistently, like I did, (and) he made the plays in moments when it was needed. But then you’ve got a young guy right now … (Devin) Hester … (who’s) been doing really well. I like the way he runs the ball. But if we’re talking consistently, over a long period of time I would choose Brian Mitchell.”
Good choice. Mitchell was a three-time All-Pro, Super Bowl champion, member of Washington’s 75th anniversary team and NFL record-holder in career punt-return yards, kickoff-return yards and total return yards. He’s also second only to Hall-of-Famer Jerry Rice in total career yardage and holds the record for career playoff return yardage.
Yet, like Gray and others, he can’t get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame without a ticket.