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Flashback Friday—Mel Gray

Flashback Friday—Mel Gray


Normally this space is given to recount great Redskins victories of the past. This one is about a gut-wrenching defeat. If you want to draw a scowl from any Redskins fan of my generation, there are two names that will do the trick. One is Clint Longley. The other is Mel Gray.

To say that the 1975 Washington Redskins were in a state of change would be like saying that the post-Watergate air in DC was a bit unsettled. Both the federal government and the Redskins were undergoing radical transformations.

Legendary quarterback Sonny Jurgensen had been pushed into retirement by coach George Allen. Running back Larry Brown, just three years removed from an MVP season had been pushed to the bench by second-year back Mike Thomas. Charley Taylor was still the team's leading receiver in terms of catches, but Frank Grant would wind up leading the Redskins in receiving yards. And Ford's pardon of Nixon had, well, you can read about that elsewhere.

Going into a November game at Busch Stadium against the St. Louis Cardinals, it was all there for the Redskins. The two teams were tied atop the NFC East with 6-2 records and, having beaten the Cards earlier in the year, Washington could gain a stranglehold on the division. The Skins led most of the way and appeared to have come up with a key goal line stand to save the game. But then the pass went to . . .Mel Gray.

Billy Kilmer had been injured the week before, and with Joe Theismann not yet ready to play, the starting quarterback was journeyman Randy Johnson. The ex-Giant filled in more than adequately, completing 14 of 27 for 252 yards and two touchdowns. The first of those two touchdown strikes came midway through the second quarter as Johnson found Taylor from 36 yards to erase a 3-0 Cardinal lead. For the next 18 minutes, the Cardinals continually drove down the field only to shoot themselves in the foot with turnovers and penalties. St. Louis racked up 427 yards of offense for the game, including 230 with an effective thunder and lightning ground attack. Terry Metcalf provided the quickness, gaining 79 yards, while Jim Otis was the power back, grinding for 109 on 23 carries.

The Redskins were having their problems with turnovers as well, giving it away five times on the day. Still, midway through the third quarter, Johnson threw his second touchdown pass, this one to Thomas, giving the Redskins a 14-3 lead. St. Louis responded as a 47-yard pass interference call aided a drive that ended with Jim Hart throwing an eight-yard touchdown pass to tight end J. V. Cain with 13:35 left in the game.

Mark Moseley kicked a 42-yard field goal with 6:18 left to put the Redskins up by seven. The Cardinals had to punt back to the Redskins. St. Louis burned all of its time outs, and one more first down would have allowed Johnson to kneel down on the ball and seal the win. Washington, though, came up short and punted. Metcalf returned it 19 yards to the Redskins 39 with 1:43 left.

Hart quickly completed two passes to move the Cardinals down to the six. After three incompletions, it was fourth and goal with less than thirty seconds left. Hart dropped back and fired over the middle to Gray a couple of yards deep into the end zone. The ball went into Gray's arms and, almost immediately, was knocked out by Pat Fisher. Was it a catch?

"It was not a catch," said Fischer. "The rule says he has to have possession and he didn't."

Gray, naturally, disagreed saying, "It was a good catch. It was a touchdown."

Immediately after the play, it seemed that the officials concurred with Fischer. The Redskins' defense began to celebrate and the offense headed onto the field.

But wait. The referees were huddling. They conferred and debated and discussed. And then they talked some more.

And eventually, some of them persuaded referee Fred Silva that Gray did have possession with two feet down. So, after what seemed like an eternity but was in reality only about three minutes, the huddle broke and Silva signed a touchdown.

"I've never seen them take so long to make a decision," said George Allen after the game, "That's like having a World Series and three minutes after the game ruling that the runner is safe at the plate." Jim Bakken's extra point tied the game at 17 and the contest went into overtime.

The dispirited Redskins lost the toss and offered little resistance as Otis powered a drive to set up a 37-yard field goal attempt by Bakken seven minutes into the extra period. It split the uprights, and the Cards won 20-17.

The loss sent Washington into a tailspin, the first of four losses in their final six games. They finished third in the division and were out of the playoffs for the first time since Allen became coach in 1971.

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Redskins Draft Room Revealed: Who works the phones, and who makes the call

Redskins Draft Room Revealed: Who works the phones, and who makes the call

Since the dismissal of former general manager Scot McCloughan, there's been little question who was in charge at Redskins Park. Unofficially anyway. 

Bruce Allen is back running the show, if he ever stopped, and will be at the center of the Redskins draft room and decision making process.

For weeks, Allen and Jay Gruden made clear that the entire Redskins front office - from scouts to the top brass - have input on draft grades. Those grades will determine what players the 'Skins take, and the team is unlikely to deviate from their draft board. 

On Monday, however, Washington director of college scouting Scott Campbell addressed the media and explained that when a decision needs to be made, it will be Allen's call. 

From Campbell:

The way we have the room when the draft is ongoing is we have Eric Schaffer and Alex Santos are constantly calling teams above us. They’re taking the phone calls from the other teams – also behind [us]. A lot of times per Bruce’s instructions, he’ll say, ‘Hey, you take these five teams. You take the next five teams. Start making calls.’ And then we’re receiving calls too at the same time. Once they get that information, they’ll tell the table in the front and say, ‘Hey, we can trade back for this, we can trade up for that.’ It would be me and Bruce and Jay saying ‘No, no, we’ve got enough guys there’ or say ‘I like these guys,’ or like, “Hey, there’s guys there.’ So it’s kind of a discussion amongst the people, and most times it’s Bruce saying, ‘Just tell them we’re not interested,’ or he says, ‘Get the league on the phone. We’re going to make that trade.’”

Campbell's comments reveal quite a lot. To start, it's interesting to know the roles of Schaffer and Santos during the draft. Both men carry a lot of impact in the team's personnel selection. Also, and it was fairly obvious since McCloughan's firing, but Jay Gruden's role continues to increase.

The biggest tell, however, is that ultimately Bruce Allen makes the decisions. It's not a surprise, but it is important to know. Officially.

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

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Redskins won't say if Joe Mixon is on their board but say character does count

Redskins won't say if Joe Mixon is on their board but say character does count

The Redskins may or may not have one of the most polarizing members of the 2017 draft class on their draft board. But they do believe that character counts.

Scott Campbell, the Redskins’ director of college scouting, would not say if  Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon, who is seen on video striking a woman and knocking her to the floor in an incident that occurred in July of 2014, is on the team’s board.

“We don't announce who's on and off the board for strategic reasons,” said Campbell on Monday at the team’s pre-draft news conference, saying that it’s the team’s policy.

He added that incidents like the one that Mixon was a part of do come into consideration.

RELATED: NFL Mock Draft Version 10.0

“Character is very important to me, it's very important to the Redskins,” said Campbell.

He explained that early in the scouting process, character issues are not taken into account.

“What I always told the scouts and how I was trained 30 years ago when I started is when you start to evaluate guys in the beginning, you don't factor in the character, you don't grade character, you grade talent,” said Campbell, who has been with the Redskins organization for 16 years. “You don't throw away somebody early who may have some redeeming quality or a part of the story you didn't know about.”

It’s later on that the scouts gather information on such incidents as problems with the law, failed drug tests, and other quarters of character.

MORE REDSKINS: Redskins mock 2.0 goes offense early, defense often 

“Our scouts do a great job getting a lot of information,” said Campbell. “Some of the incidents you brought up happened after the season, at the combine, and just a few days ago. All those things are factored into an evaluation as they are gathered.”

With that information at hand, they start the process of elimination, deciding who fits and who doesn’t.

“When it comes close to the draft, you start weeding out all that, getting more information, deciding, OK, that guy's not our kind of guy, that guy's not a Redskin, this guy could be drafted but good luck to them,” said Campbell.

It seems like much more of a gut feel type of process than anything rigid. There is not much of a clue there as to whether or not the team will consider bringing Mixon aboard, who is inarguably one of the most talented running backs in the draft. The upside is that Mixon could provide a jolt to the team’s offense. The downside would be an immediate public relations hit. The team also must consider what will happen if Mixon were to run afoul of the NFL’s domestic abuse policy in the future, which calls for a six-game suspension for a first offense with penalties getting progressively worse if problems persist.

Stay up to date on the Redskins! Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.