Mel Gray, Daryl Johnston talking turkey about playing on Thanksgiving Day


There are many things to be thankful for on Thanksgiving Day and two of them are the annual games featuring the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys. The Lions and Cowboys on Thanksgiving have become as much a staple of the holiday as turkey itself, so Talk of Fame Network decided to go visit with former Lions’ All-Pro kick returner Mel Gray and long-time Cowboys’ fullback and FOX NFL analyst Daryl Johnston to get their memories.

Gray played in six Thanksgiving Day games for the Lions and compared playing on Thanksgiving to the Super Bowl itself. “Only a few teams are playing and most fans are watching,’’ said the four-time Pro Bowl and 1990s All-Decade selection. “It’s a game where you want to show your skills.’’

Gray certainly had much to show. He twice led the NFL in kickoff returns and twice led in punt returns. He is also the oldest to return a kick for a touchdown, taking three back in 1994, including a 102-yarder, at the age of 33. So why aren’t Mel Gray or one of his peers considered Hall of Fame worthy?

“It’s a shame,’’ Gray said of the absence of a pure return man in Canton. “You’re talking about some of the biggest plays. Some of the most exciting moments in football history have been by returners.’’

Johnson spent 11 Thanksgivings thrilling fans in Dallas, winning three Super Bowls and seven of those Thanksgiving Day tussles while earning multiple Pro Bowl selections as the blocking back who led Emmitt Smith to most of the yards he gained to become the NFL’s all-time leading rusher.

Thanksgiving was always special to Johnston, who grew up watching the game with his family and still remembers how he felt the first time he played on Thanksgiving for the Cowboys.

“One of the most intimidating things (in his career) was the first time I walked down the tunnel in Dallas (on Thanksgiving Day),’’ Johnston told TOF.

In addition to his Turkey Day remembrances, Johnston also talks of what he considers the glory days for the fullback back in the 1990s when guys like himself, Larry Centers, Tony Richardson, Mike Alstott and, most of all, the 49ers’ Tom Rathman were doing a lot more than blocking from the fullback position

“We weren’t just thumpers,’’ Johnston said. “It’s just a shame they got so little recognition.’’

Our Hall of Fame co-hosts, Ron Borges, Rick Gosselin and Clark Judge, also recall their memories of Thanksgiving Day games past as well as analyze the chances of the 27 players and coaches named this week as Hall of Fame semi-finalists. That list includes first timers Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher and Randy Moss and returning finalists Ty Law, Alan Faneca and John Lynch. Who gets in this year? Our three Hall of Fame voters break it all down.

In addition, Ron states the Hall of Fame case for one of the game’s most polarizing players, former Patriots and Chargers safety Rodney Harrison. Harrison was the first player to ever produce 30 sacks and 30 interceptions but was also fined over $200,000 during his career and three times voted the league’s dirtiest player by his peers. Is he Hall of Fame Worthy? Listen in to find out.

Ron’s “Borges or Bogus’’ segment zeroes in this week on Bills’ coach Sean McDermott’s ill-advised decision to bench quarterback Tyrod Taylor in favor of rookie Nathan Peterman. How did that work out? Well, Peterman put himself in the record books but not in a way Ron felt justified the decision. Peterman threw five interceptions in 17 minutes and was replaced at halftime by Taylor. By then the damage was done. Ron speculates on whether that damage is short term or long term for McDermott and the Bills.

The guys also debate which young quarterback they would select if starting a new franchise and whether defense is back on the rise despite the rules that are now massed against it.

There’s all that and more during the two-hour show. You can hear it all Wednesday nights from 8-10 pm and replayed Saturday and Sunday on SB Nation Radio around the country. You can also download the free podcast of the show at iTunes or on the TuneIn app. Or you can simply go to our website, and click on the helmet icon to listen to this week’s show or any of our past shows.


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