Lonnie Turner took a very unique route to the WLAF after playing for Cal Poly Pomona under Roman Gabriel: He played in the USFL from 1983 to 1985. During that period he played one season each for LA (3 catches for 41 yards), Oklahoma (27 receptions for 399 yards and 2 TDs), and Denver (29 receptions for 388 yards). After brief stops with the Cardinals and later the Atlanta Falcons, he’d join the Arena football league, and play for Pittsburgh in 1988. Boasting experience in the Run N Shoot offense, Lonnie signed with the Lions in 1990, but was unable to make the squad. This however got him back onto the radar of the WLAF, and the New York- New Jersey Knights who were coached by former Lions offensive coordinator Mouse Davis.
Lonnie was selected in the WLAF supplemental draft by the Knights. A long in the tooth veteran at 30 years old, Lonnie was one of the oldest players on the team. He paid dividends in 1991, leading NY-NJ with 41 receptions (5th in league) for 629 yards (7th) and caught his only touchdown of the season versus the Montreal Machine. In 1992, Lonnie caught 36 passes for 437 yards and 2 TDs- including a 50 yarder.
With the WLAF reorganizing after the 1992 season, Turner packed his bags for a quick stop with the British Columbia Lions of the CFL in 1993. He posted 27 receptions for 420 yards and 2 TDs, 11 kick returns for 196 yards, and 38 punts for 270 yards. – As a pro, this represented his most productive season- but this was his first and last foray into the CFL.
A few years passed, and Lonnie appears again in the Arena Football League. This time he picks up in 1996 with the Tampa Bay Storm, and along with that 43 receptions for 576 yards and 9 TDs. He’d join the Nashville Kats in 1997 and play there through 1998. With the Kats in 1997 he’d have another solid season (35 receptions, 485 yards, 9 TDs, 28 kick returns, 460 yards, and 1 TD), and then close out his career playing football with one final season in Nashville with 20 receptions for 193 yards and 3 TDs, and 16 kick returns for 251 yards.
I have been tracking Lonnie for some time. With his unique and interesting playing history, I figured that he’d at least be on Wikipedia, but his trail is mysteriously cold. Even USFL fans couldn’t tell me where he was at. It didn’t help that there are actually other Lonnie Turners out there in the world who played and coached football, but after a lot of perseverance, I was able to find him coaching in Los Angeles. He’s apparently spent a lot of time at the high school level and has now climbed into the college ranks.
Mel Gray is an impossible respondent to get through the mail, so I jumped at the chance to get him through a paid signing on these 3 cards. He’s always remained near the top of my list to get TTM due to his lack of respect from HoF voters. Gray along with guys like Eric Metcalf are truly electric players who ground up yardage as dangerous return specialists, daring other teams to punt and kick away from them or converted the critical 3rd down motioning out of the backfield and catching a short pass, dodging a few would be tacklers, and turning it into a 12 yard gain.
I most remember Mel Gray from his days on the Detroit Lions, the twilight days of the Houston Oilers, and as a multifaceted talent on Tecmo Super Bowl. The game really nailed him, allowing you to shift Gray from wide receiver to runningback without blinking an eye.
Mel’s playing days started at Purdue where he was a star at runningback and wide receiver for the Boilermakers. He’d earn Big 10 honors and several All-American Honors during his time there as their featured back. Mel made the transition to the USFL in 1984 for the LA Express, and then was later traded to the Oklahoma Outlaws. After the league folded, Mel Gray was selected in the NFL Supplemental Draft of USFL and CFL players. Selected by the New Orleans Saints, Mel burst on to the scene with a 27.9 kick off return average and a 101 yard TD against the 49ers in his second game in 1986. Gray led the league with a 14.7 yard punt return average in 1987, and scored on his first TD on a punt return the following year. He hopped Plan B to Detroit in 1989.
Gray earned All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors in 1990 and 1991 as he led the league in multiple categories. He’d return to the Pro Bowl in 1992, and earn AP and Pro Bowl honors a last time in 1994. His 1994 season was one of the best in NFL history, as Gray returned 45 kicks for 1276 yards (28.4 average) and 3 touchdowns. In 1995, Mel cashed in and signed as a free agent with the Houston Oilers, a move at the time I lauded, but really didn’t pan out. The Oilers hadn’t really had a marquee name work out as a returner in quite some time, and at the age of 34, I’m not sure really what the Oilers envisioned for Mel to do, in retrospect other than return kicks. In 1997 Gray made the transition to Tennessee with the team, but was cut midway through the season saving the team $200k. He finished the year with the Eagles, and retired. At the time Mel had the most career yards kick returning in NFL history, tied for the lead for career TDs on kick returns – since surpassed. Still Mel clings on to his record for being the oldest player to score a KR TD in NFL history (33). As a pure specialist, Mel may never get his due from the Pro Football HoF, but he still ranks among the most memorable players ever to return the rock.
Mel Renfro was a star 2 way player for Oregon, playing both cornerback and tailback, while also excelling at track for the Ducks. After rushing for 1,532 yards for the Ducks over 3 years, he was drafted in the second round by the Dallas Cowboys in 1964. Intially slotted to play runningback Coach Landry made the call to move him to safety where he had an outstanding rookie season with 7 interceptions, and was the NFL leader in kick and punt return yards. In his second season the Cowboys switched Mel back to runningback in the hopes that he’d inject some life into the offense, but was returned to defense with the emergence of Dan Reeves.
Although he held the designation of return specialist for much of the next few years, Renfro moved from safety to corner in 1966, culminating in leading the NFL in 1969 with 10 interceptions. Over his career with the Cowboys Mel was named All Pro 5 times, and to the Pro Bowl 10. A two time Super Bowl champion, Renfro was co-MVP of the 1970 Pro Bowl and named to the Dallas Cowboys’ Ring of Honor in 1981. Mel is the team’s all-time leader in both career kickoff return average and interceptions. Renfro was inducted into the NFL HoF in 1996.
He’s spent some time coaching in the USFL with the Express, and the St. Louis Cardinals. A motivational speaker, Mel is pretty engaging with fans. I missed out at Dallas Stadium Fan Day at the end of the year. My timing was perfect to get Rocket Ismail, but so perfect, Mel came out just as I finished getting Rocket- so I ended up having to go to the very back of the line. I went ahead and wrote him a few days later including the customary signing fee. Renfro signed all the cards I enclosed, and as a bonus included an autographed Hall of Fame postcard, a signed business card, and he asked if I could send him an extra copy of the custom Top Notch card that I sent. A very short wait for such a great return, and a fair price to boot.
The Topps 1971 set has grown on me over the years and is a seminal classic to me. On the other hand the Upper Deck Legends 1997 is very disappointing. Considered a classic as well in its own right, I was pretty disappointed in this entry. The photo is not inspired, and it even looks like a thumb got in on the action on the left side. Sad. The profile photo of Mel is also from later in his career. I went for some action photos for Mel’s Top Notch entry. I very much enjoy the classic press photo shots that were very popular during the 70s and used two different ones for either side.
G/Gs 174/152 Pr 109 Yds 842 Avg 7.7 Td 1 Lg 69t
Kr 85 Yds 2246 Avg 26.4 Td 2 Lg 100t
Tac N/a Sac N/a Fum 12 Int 52 Yds 626 Avg 12.0 Td 3 Lg 90t
Celebrating the game, the players, the cards, and the autographs for over 25 years.