Many thought Mel Gray was too small and had questionable hands coming out of the University of Missouri in 1971. However, no one could question his speed and athleticism. In high school, Gray tied Jesse Owens’ record with a 9.4 in the 100 yard dash and he later became an All-American in track and field at Mizzou. Gray was working in a California book store in 1971 when a friend informed him that he had been drafted. He initially thought he was headed to Vietnam, but soon discovered the St. Louis Cardinals had selected him in the 6th round of the NFL draft. Gray spent the next 12 seasons in St. Louis burning NFL secondaries, delighting fans, and fighting with Big Red management (as did many other players). I recently sat down with Mel Gray to chat about his time at Mizzou and career with the Big Red.
Q: You’re a California native. How did you end up at Mizzou?
GRAY: I wasn’t a bad kid, but I got in trouble a lot because of the guys I hung out with. My mother wanted me to leave. I could have gone to USC or UCLA, but my mother said, “no, I want you out of California.” And Mizzou was the only school who would let me play football and run track. (Gray spent his freshman year at Ft. Scott Jr. College in Kansas)
Q: Was there a culture shock moving from California to the Midwest?
GRAY: When I signed with Missouri it was 80 degrees and sunny. But by November (1968) it was 10 degrees. I never experienced anything like it. I stayed in my room for two weeks under an electric blanket. One day, the coaches knocked on my door and asked me why I wasn’t in class. I said “have you been outside?” So they went over and looked in my closet, looked at each other, and then left. I climbed back under the covers and thought they were going to send my butt home! But they came back later with boxes of thermal underwear, sweaters, socks, scarves, jackets… It definitely took a while to get used to the cold weather!