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ONE MOMENT IN THREE CAREERS
Rick Telander
December 18, 1978
For the author, the photograph of him failing as a pass defender in the 1971 East-West Game summoned up a painful memory. For Mel Gray, who caught the ball, and Dan Pastorini, who threw it, the recollection is elating
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December 18, 1978

One Moment In Three Careers

For the author, the photograph of him failing as a pass defender in the 1971 East-West Game summoned up a painful memory. For Mel Gray, who caught the ball, and Dan Pastorini, who threw it, the recollection is elating

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"Oh, yeah. I was lucky to be at the game at all. I had the reputation of being just another sprinter trying to play football. They said I couldn't catch the ball, that my hands were like bricks, like potato chips. And besides, I was small—5'9", 168 pounds at the time." Gray studies the photo for another moment.

"A big political guy in San Francisco told me before the game that if I wanted anything from the pros I'd better play real good in the East-West Game. So when the ball was coming down and you were on the ground I said to myself, 'Mel, don't drop it.' Then the ball hit my arms and I bobbled it. 'Oh, no,' I thought. 'Oh, no!' But I hung on and it was a TD. The adrenaline was flowing and my heart was beating fast and I started to glow all over. To tell the truth, I thought I'd be the MVP for the game. And I knew I'd probably go in the first round of the draft."

Gray chuckles here, for despite his performance he didn't get picked till the end of the sixth round. "If I'd dropped that pass I probably wouldn't have been drafted at all," he says.

Because of the low salary he got when he went into the league. Gray has never earned what he thinks he is worth. Only recently has he started to feel on top financially. Along with Terry Metcalf—with whom he has stayed close even though Metcalf played out his option with St. Louis and now is with the Toronto Argonauts—and Running Back Wayne Morris, Gray plans to refurbish a St. Louis nightclub and call it The Combination, with each player's number on the marquee.

"Hopefully it'll work out," he says. "It's just for a while, anyway. I've sort of thought about coaching when I'm done with playing football."

The last thing I ask Gray is whether, in any way, he felt sorry for me that day in Oakland.

"Oh, no," he says immediately. "I mean. Rick, think about it. If you'd intercepted the pass, would you have felt sorry for me?" While I'm pondering such a fantasy, he continues. "After the ref signaled TD. I just dropped the ball and ran straight for the sidelines. Now I'd be as likely to throw the ball at the cornerback's feet after I scored. But I wouldn't have done that back then. I'm a little cockier now: I try to intimidate defensive backs, throw them off their game. You have to do that in the pros. College was fun; this is business." We nod our heads over this axiom.

"I don't think you should feel so bad," Gray says after a pause. "I mean. I do run a 9.2 hundred. I'm just gifted with speed. In man-to-man coverage, hey, throw me the ball because I'll be open. I've scored 10 touchdowns in the pros on that same pattern."

Overall, then, is Mel Gray happy with the way things have turned out?

"Yeah, I'm glad I'm playing pro ball. I'm basically happy. My parents are proud of me. My brothers and sisters look up to me...."

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