Seven years ago, he and his wife and two Augusta Sports Council members were driving to Thomson, Ga., to see Ray Guy and congratulate him on the big news. All the signs, it seemed, pointed to Guy’s finally getting inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Minutes before Presnell and his group arrived at Guy’s home, satellite radio delivered the gut punch: The man considered the greatest punter in NFL history failed to get elected. Presnell whipped the car around and returned to Augusta.
“Ray was so hurt,” said Presnell, who served six years as president of the Augusta Sports Council. “And we were hurt.”
Those feelings soon might be a thing of the past.
Guy and former Atlanta Falcons defensive end Claude Humphrey are the Hall of Fame’s Seniors Committee candidates. They each need 80 percent of the vote from the 46-member Selection Committee when the group meets today in New York. The Class of 2014 will be revealed at 8 p.m. Saturday on WFXG- TV 54 (Fox).
This is Guy’s eighth time as a finalist for the Hall of Fame. He is bidding to become the first true punter enshrined. Only one other special teams player has been inducted: kicker Jan Stenerud.
Guy, who works as the director of the M-Club and Community Relations at his alma mater, Southern Mississippi, said he is trying to keep his emotions in check, especially after all the previous years when getting elected seemed like a sure thing.
“You want to get excited, but you don’t want to get overexcited,” Guy said. “You just take it day by day and as it gets a little closer you maybe get a little nervous. We’ll just wait and see.”
Rick Sang, the executive director of the Ray Guy kicking and punting academy, is also taking a wait-and-see approach. But, he added, the Seniors Committee nomination is a huge deal – nine veteran members of the overall Selection Committee nominated Guy and Humphrey in August.
“Everything’s been super positive,” Sang said. “There’s a saying that nothing’s more uncertain than a sure thing, but it looks pretty dang good. It’s not a done deal. But with the Seniors Committee’s backing, it is as strong as it’s ever been. So we’re just hoping it happens.”
In Augusta and Thomson, excitement is at a fever pitch for Guy. Presnell, who helped create the Ray Guy Award that goes to the best collegiate punter every year, said Guy defined the modern punter.
“The best example of what the punter position represents is Ray Guy,” Presnell said. “Ray sacrificed yardage many times for placement. That’s what made him the model for the position.”
The 64-year-old Guy, a three-time Super Bowl champion, was the first punter ever selected in the first round of the NFL Draft in 1973; he was chosen 23rd overall. He went on to play 14 seasons for the Raiders in Oakland and Los Angeles, racking up seven Pro Bowl appearances.
Guy popularized the term “hang time” in reference to his sky-high punts. He averaged 42.4 yards per punt. Of his 1,049 punts, not one was returned for a touchdown.
Guy is a member of several exclusive clubs: the NFL 75th anniversary all-time team, the Super Bowl silver anniversary team and the all-time NFL team. He also has been inducted into the National High School Sports Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame.
In 1992, Guy received his first nomination for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In total, Guy was a finalist seven times as a modern-era candidate.
This time, his chances are different as a senior candidate. And Guy’s former Thomson High School coach Paul Leroy said he feels encouraged.
“I feel real good. I hope this will be his time,” he said. “I know there’s a lot of excitement in Thomson.”
Brinsley Thigpen, the CEO of the Augusta Sports Council, shares Leroy’s sentiments.
“I’m feeling very hopeful and excited,” she said. “Obviously he had a great impact on the game of football. Hopefully, this is the year he’s rewarded for it.”
Presnell said he believes this is Guy’s year. Presnell said he hopes to make the trip to Canton, Ohio, during the summer to see his friend get honored at the annual Hall of Fame ceremony. And like many others throughout the Augusta area and in California and Mississippi, Presnell plans to keep his fingers crossed on today’s outcome.
“I’m pathologically optimistic,” he said. “The time is now. Dadgum it, it’s time.”