Lions coach Steve Gregory turned Butt Fumble into iconic piece of NFL history

Detroit News

Justin Rogers
 
| The Detroit News

Many of the greatest plays in NFL history have nicknames. Even casual fans know them well — The Catch, the Immaculate Reception and the Music City Miracle. 

Sometimes, the infamous plays are also gifted a nickname. Who can ever forget the Butt Fumble?

On Thanksgiving, eight years ago, New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez made a comical series of errors, starting by turning the wrong way on a designed handoff. As the running back zipped by without the ball, Sanchez was left to improvise, so he attempted to scramble up the gut to minimize the damage. 

Spoiler alert, he did not. 

As Sanchez attempted to slide near the line, he collided with the backside of offensive lineman Brandon Moore, fumbling the ball in the process. And thus the Butt Fumble was born. 

On its own, the embarrassing moment is probably quickly forgotten. But it came on national television, in a rivalry game against the New England Patriots. And the icing on the cake, what likely sealed it as iconic, is the loose ball was scooped up and returned for a touchdown by Patriots safety and current Detroit Lions defensive backs coach Steve Gregory. 

While the Butt Fumble has been a sore spot in the legacy of Sanchez, and even Moore, who had a solid 10-year career, Gregory still derives great joy talking about it.

“Yeah, it was great,” Gregory said last week. “I mean, obviously it’s great that we’re still living it. You know? I’m going to be an old man one day, talking to my grandkids, and that play is probably going to be being shown on the TV still, so I’m excited about that. It was just a crazy play, one of those blunder plays that you end up being on the good side of it. Vince (Wilfork), he took the guard and knocked him into the quarterback and Sanchez was trying to salvage the play and the ball comes out and I’m sitting right there. So scoop and score and the rest is history.”

The play was only one part of a disastrous sequence for the Jets. It was the second of three turnovers that each resulted in a Patriots touchdown during a 52-second span. And it was just one element of a great night for Gregory, who recovered a second fumble during that three-turnover stretch and also intercepted Sanchez later in the game. 

But no one wants to talk about any of that. They only want to talk about the Butt Fumble. Over the years, Gregory says the play comes up “all the time,” but it’s often more of a slow realization than people making an instant connection. He’ll introduce himself, at a coaching clinic or to a new player, and days later that person will come back and want to talk about it. 

“Pretty much every one you run into, once they find out, they kinda get a kick out of it,” he said. “It’s intriguing for them to meet the person that actually scored on the butt fumble. I guess it’s such a unique play and they made such a big deal about it that people like to talk about it, kinda like we are right now.”

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Gregory likes to tell people he re-lives the play every year on Thanksgiving.  

“I like to joke around and tell everybody that every Thanksgiving me and my wife reenact it in the living room, you know?” Gregory said. “My family sets up an offensive line and somebody plays Vince Wilfork and someone plays Mark Sanchez and it’s a good little family tradition right before dessert.”

Gregory’s current Thanksgiving tradition is coaching. He’s in his third season as a member of the Lions staff and his first in charge of the team’s defensive backs. 

“It’s always been a tradition for me, but especially now, being here in Detroit, being a part of it, really the first team to experience it and do it, it means a lot for us,” he said. “Come Thanksgiving, would love to get a win here in Detroit. It’s fun for my family, it’s fun for us and I’m just glad I get to be a part of it here in Detroit.”

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