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Does Lions’ loss to Carolina prove Matt Patricia is done in Detroit?
Dave Birkett and Carlos Monarrez talk Nov. 23, 2020, about Matt Patricia’s job security and similarities between the Houston Texans and Detroit Lions.
It wasn’t until Steve Gregory got back to the locker room at MetLife Stadium that he realized he might have just had a hand in one of the most iconic plays in Thanksgiving football history.
Gregory, now the defensive backs coach of the Detroit Lions, was in his second-to-last NFL season in 2012 when his New England Patriots annihilated the New York Jets, 49-19, in a primetime game that remains the most lopsided Thanksgiving affair this decade.
Gregory scored a touchdown early in the second quarter on a 32-yard fumble return. The touchdown, the only one of his NFL career, was part of a 21-point Patriot outburst in a 52-second span, but that was only a sliver of the reason it was so memorable.
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“It really wasn’t until the locker room after the game I think somebody said, ‘Hey, you scored on the Butt Fumble,’ ” Gregory said last week. “I’m like, ‘What? What are you talking about?’ After the game is when it all kind of started coming together and hearing about it on the news and all that stuff.”
Eight years after Mark Sanchez ran into the rump of offensive lineman Brandon Moore and lost the fumble that Gregory returned for a touchdown, the Butt Fumble remains one of the most memorable turkey day blunders of all time, up there with Leon Lett’s ill-advised attempt to recover a blocked field goal and Phil Luckett’s controversial coin flip.
“It was great,” Gregory said. “Obviously, it’s great that we’re still living it. I’m going to be an old man one day talking to my grandkids and that play’s probably going to be being shown on the TV still, so I’m excited about that.”
The play began rather innocuously, with the Jets on first-and-10 at their own 31-yard line — two offensive plays after Shane Vereen took a Tom Brady pass 83 yards for a touchdown.
Sanchez took a snap from under center Nick Mangold and turned the wrong way, to his left, to hand the ball off to fullback Lex Hilliard. With no one there to give the ball to, Sanchez pivoted and ran up the middle.
As Sanchez was about to slide for a short gain, Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork jolted Moore upright, knocking his backside into a sliding Sanchez’s head.
Sanchez lost the ball, which rolled off his leg and two-hopped into Gregory’s hands for an easy touchdown.
“It was just a crazy play,” Gregory said. “One of those blunder plays that you end up being on the good side of it. And Vince, 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 it’s scoop and score and the rest is history.”
For Gregory, history is often intertwined with the present, especially around this time of year.
Gregory will take part in his third Thanksgiving game as a coach Thursday, when the Lions (4-6) host the Houston Texans (3-7) at Ford Field, and Butt Fumble highlights are bound to make their way onto the day’s replay loop.
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Gregory joked that he and his wife re-enact the Butt Fumble in their living room every Thanksgiving — “My family sets up an offensive line and someone plays Vince Wilfork and someone plays Mark Sanchez and it’s a good little family tradition right before dessert,” he said — and he said people bring the play up to him “all the time” when they first meet.
“It’s funny,” Gregory said. “You meet people and then a few days later then they come back to you, they’re like, ‘I didn’t realize you’re the Butt Fumble guy.’ Yeah, that’s me.”
The Lions started the NFL’s Thanksgiving tradition in 1934, when owner George Richards was looking for ways to drum up interest in his team, and have played on the holiday every year since, except during World War II.
The Dallas Cowboys joined the Thanksgiving tradition in 1966, and have played continuously on the holiday except in 1975 and 1977.
And in 2006, the NFL added a third, primetime Thanksgiving game.
Both the Lions and Cowboys have had their share of memorable — or forgettable, depending on your point of view — Thanksgiving moments, but the Butt Fumble has a special place in turkey day lore.
Gregory said the Patriots-Jets rivalry is one reason why, and so, too, are the markets of the teams involved and the sheer silliness of the play.
“It’s a blunder play… and the fact that I scored on it probably is what made it a bigger play,” Gregory said. “Like, had I gotten tackled and didn’t score, it probably isn’t as famous of a play.”
Gregory said his place in Thanksgiving football history makes it extra special to be involved with the holiday now with the Lions, but it’s likely nothing he experiences in Detroit will come close to matching the fame he earned for his role in the Butt Fumble.
“I have (the ball), for sure,” Gregory said. “It just says ‘touchdown’ (on it). It was just a touchdown ball. I should probably get it repainted and put ‘Butt Fumble’ on it. I’ll put it on the back side of the ball.”