If you’re of a certain age, the opening strains of Toni Basil’s “Mickey” immediately gets you clapping your hands to the rhythmic beat and singing, “Oh Mickey, you’re so fine ...”
American pop music, in particular, is filled with one-hit wonders: “I’m Too Sexy,” “Ice Ice Baby,” “Macarena” and so many more. Artists get one incredibly catchy and popular song but never catch lightning in a bottle again with subsequent singles.
Five years ago this week, we saw arguably the NFL’s biggest one-hit wonder.
Jonas Gray stars for Patriots
On Nov. 16, 2014, a little-known New England Patriots running back named Jonas Gray had a game that aspiring NFL running backs dream of: 37 carries for 201 yards and four touchdowns against the Indianapolis Colts.
Gray hadn’t even totaled 37 carries in his time with New England; he’d been active for three other games that season, with 32 touches for 131 yards.
He wasn’t a rookie: undrafted out of Notre Dame in 2012 after a torn ACL in his Senior Day game, he was initially signed by the Miami Dolphins, spent time on the Baltimore Ravens practice squad and then signed a futures contract with the Patriots in January 2014.
He began the regular season that year on the practice squad, but an injury to Stevan Ridley in October led to Gray’s promotion to the 53-man roster.
As the Patriots enjoyed their bye in Week 10, Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels prepared for their game against the Colts the next Sunday, and knowing Indianapolis run-stuffer Arthur Jones would be out due to injury, they decided to exploit that weakened area, a Belichick hallmark.
New England’s game plan involved six offensive linemen, two tight ends and a lot of Gray, a 230-pound back.
It worked to perfection.
Gray scored in the first quarter, his first NFL touchdown. He scored again in the second quarter. And the third. And the fourth.
He was on the cover of “Sports Illustrated.” His mother, in the stands in Indianapolis that night, was brought to her knees, sure that her son had finally broken through.
Dangling phone charger was his undoing
ESPN’s Liz Merrill tracked down Gray five years after his star turn for a story posted online Wednesday morning.
No sooner had the “SI” issue he was featured on landed in subscribers’ mailboxes and his star had plummeted back to earth. On that Tuesday, the Pittsburgh Steelers released running back LeGarrette Blount, who’d been with New England the season before; the Patriots brought him back, giving them another big back.
But Gray wasn’t worried, and continued preparing for the coming game against the Detroit Lions, the team he’d followed as a kid growing up in Michigan.
On Thursday night, he was up late watching film on his iPad and phone, set his alarm to make sure he’d be on time for the 7:30 a.m. meeting he had on Friday, plugged the phone into its wall charger and went to sleep.
He didn’t notice that the charger wasn’t plugged into the wall properly. The phone died overnight, his alarm never went off, and Gray didn’t wake up until 8:30 a.m., an hour after the meeting started at the team facility.
Being late is pretty much the biggest sin in Belichick’s eyes; in 2009, Randy Moss, Adalius Thomas and two other players were late to a morning meeting after an overnight snowstorm. Belichick didn’t care, and sent them home for the day. It snows in Massachusetts, and he expects you to make the proper arrangements to make sure you do your job.
Kevin Anderson, the team’s football operations manager at the time, texted and went to Gray’s house, but told him not to go to the facility until he called.
Gray went in around 5:30 p.m., wanting to explain to Belichick. The coach was walking on a treadmill and reading notes, and Gray recalls he said little other than, “We just can’t have it” — repeatedly.
He didn’t play against the Lions. The next week, in a loss to Green Bay, he had one carry. He did get 11 carries against Miami in Week 15, but the damage was done. He was a healthy scratch in Super Bowl XLIX, where the Pats beat the Seahawks.
Clinging to hope
Now 29 years old and a father of three, Gray is clinging to hope he’ll get another chance.
The Patriots cut him in the 2015 preseason, with de facto GM Nick Caserio telling him they were going in a different direction and didn’t need any more big backs.
“Still to this day, it gets me,” Gray told Merrill, tears in his eyes. “I was pretty shocked.”
He was with the Dolphins to start the regular season, getting carries in six games; he finished the season with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but tore his quad in training camp with Jacksonville in 2016 and hasn’t played since.
He still works out, and went to the XFL’s summer showcase in July but wasn’t drafted last month.
Gray says he harbors no ill will toward Belichick, but wonders what would have happened if that phone charger had been plugged in.
He wonders where he'd be right now if his phone had been charged on that November day.
“I don't think I'd still be with the Patriots,” he says. “But I'd definitely be in the NFL. I probably would be somewhere with a large contract playing on a team. I probably would've left New England because they couldn't pay me.”
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