Tag Archives: los angeles express

Gray, Mel (WR/KR)

ap92 mgrayCards: Fleer 1995, Action Packed 1992, ProSet 1990
Acquired: Paid Signing 2014, c/o Texas Autograph Club
Sent:      Received: 2/12

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.

sky92 mgrayMel’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, flr95 graya 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.

G/Gs  169/2    Rush 19    Yds 99      Avg 5.2     Td  1       Lg 14
Rec  13    Yds 164     Avg 12.6     Td 0     Lg  38
KR 421     Yds 10250        Avg   24.3     Td  6    Lg  102t
PR   252    Yds 2753     Avg  10.9      Td 3    Lg 80


Renfro, Mel

to71 renfroudldg97 renfro

Cards: Upper Deck Legends 1997, Topps 1971, Top Notch Signature Select 2013, HoF postcard
Acquired: TTM 2014, C/o Home*
Sent:  2/10     Received:   2/18   (8 days)
* Signing fee of $10 per flat included.

tnt13g mrenfroMel 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.
mem renfro

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

Ellis, Ricky “Hollywood”

Card: BK 2009
Acquired: In Person 2011, Christian Okoye Foundation Skills Clinic

I met Ricky at the Christian Okoye Foundation Skills Camp in 2011. He was running drills with kids and giving them pep talks on life. Keenly aware possibly of the value and rarity of his card from the Topps 1985 USFL set, he had his own card printed that he gave to the kids. As I was wandering around taking photos of the different drills and kids, I was able to finagle a card and autograph off of him. We talked at length about NCAA corruption and how the history of the franchises he had played for had been erased.
When one kid refused to play as a ‘skin’ when the boys played were scrimmaging, the child came over to sit on the bleachers to pout with his father. Ricky noticed that the boy was not playing and literally came over to drag him back in. The child went ahead and scored a touchdown and made an interception during the scrimmage. An excitable and electric personality, it’s no surprise that Ellis is President of NFL Alumni Association in Southern California.

After graduating from Cal State Fullerton, Ricky would be signed by the British Columbia Lions of the CFL in 1978.  He’d then make the jump to the USFL. Ricky would play in the USFL in 1983, where he’d establish himself as one of future NFL Hall of Famer Steve Young‘s primary targets on the Los Angeles Express.  During the 1983 season, he’d make 69 receptions for 719 yards and 6 touchdowns. In 1984, Ricky would make 25 receptions for 191 yards and a touchdown.  Among Ricky’s fondest memories of playing in the USFL was after a game against Bobby Hebert‘s Michigan Panthers, they’d head south to face the Tampa Bay Bandits, but were given a week off in between games. He spent the whole week jet skiing and started the game against the Bandits with sore hamstrings. Before the USFL imploded Ricky signed with the Houston Oilers and retired after the 1985 season.  He also at some point also played for the Seattle Seahawks.

As Ricky and I talked he lamented about how his history was being erased. The Astrodome and the Oilers were gone, Kingdome in Seattle imploded and the jerseys changed, the USFL of course long gone, and his college killing the football program there because of costs. After his NFL career Ricky has also spent time teaching, being a motivational speaker and a parole agent.

Below are Ricky’s USFL statistics:

GP 36    Rec 94     Yds  907     Avg   9.6     Td  7