Earlier today, the voting committee for the New England Patriots Hall of Fame got together to decide on the three finalists for this year’s induction. Before the meeting took place, however, the senior committee convened in order to discuss if a players who has been retired for more than 25 year was worthy of the recognition. The answer is yes: former Patriots offensive tackle Leon Gray will be inducted into the Hall as its 28th member.
A third-round draft pick by the Miami Dolphins in 1973, Gray joined the Patriots off waivers that same year and went on to establish himself as one of the best left tackles in football in the mid-70s. Playing alongside Hall of Fame guard John Hannah, the Jackson State product appeared in 80 games for New England over the course of six seasons and was voted to two Pro Bowls (1976, 1978) and one All-Pro team (1978).
Gray was an integral member of one of the best offensive lines not only in franchise but arguably also in pro football history: in 1976, Gray and company helped the Patriots average 210.6 rushing yards over the course of the 14-game regular season — a franchise mark that still stands today. The very next year, the unit showed that it was equally dominant in pass blocking by giving up only 14 quarterback sacks.
Its most dominant performance, however, might have come one year after that: in 1978, after the NFL had switched to a 16-game regular season format, Gray and the rest of the Patriots’ offensive line — left guard John Hannah, center Bill Lenkaitis, right guard Sam Adams and right tackle Shelby Jordan — paved the way for an NFL record 3,165 rushing yards. The number still stands undisputed today and will likely never be broken again.
Just before the start of the 1979 season, Gray’s tenure with the Patriots came to an abrupt end when the club decided to trade him to the Houston Oilers. He spent three seasons with his new club and was named to the Pro Bowl and All-Pro squads two more times each, before another trade sent him to the New Orleans Saints. Following his second year with the Saints, after the 1983 season, the then 32-year-old decided to retire from football.
In November 2001 at the age of just 49, Gray passed away. The late standout offensive tackle was a finalist for the Patriots Hall of Fame in both 2013 and 2015 — and has now finally made it as the third former player to get in on a senior ticket: center Jon Morris was voted into the Hall in 2011, defensive tackle Houston Antwine in 2015.