The Pro Football Hall of Fame is finally whole, and Ray Guy’s legacy is complete.
Saturday’s long overdue election of Guy to the 2014 class rights a long-standing blemish on the Canton, Ohio, institution. The unjust exclusion of a complete category of position player had left a gaping hole in the hall.
Guy finally brings a true punter to the fraternity. Along with already inducted placekicker Jan Stenerud, the two specialists finally give the FOOT-ball Hall of Fame two feet to stand upright upon.
“It’s gratifying to now see a punter go into the Hall of Fame,” Guy said Saturday. “Whether it was me or somebody else they needed a representation at that position.”
For whatever reason, some of the sports writers who make up the 46-person board of selectors had until Saturday deemed punting unworthy of recognition. Somehow a punter was not regarded as a “complete” player just because he only performs a quantifiable task four or five times per game. This would be akin to excluding closers or designated hitters from consideration for baseball’s hall of fame.
Forget the fact that some punters often serve as holders for placekicks (another under-represented position in Canton). The precise ballet under pressure that goes on between snapper, holder and kicker during a field goal or extra point is one of the under-appreciated elements of the game and is of vital importance to the won/loss record.
But for some reasons the selectors have been content for 50 years to treat punters as if they didn’t exist. A few have argued that Sammy Baugh – elected in the inaugural 1963 class as a quarterback – was enough of a punting presence since he handled the duties in the quick-kick era when punting wasn’t treated as a specialty.
All that discrimination is in the past thanks to Guy and the tireless efforts of his supporters.
“It’s been a long time and there’s been a lot of frustration,” Guy said.
Guy was one of the players who changed that perception when the Oakland Raiders recognized just how valuable an asset he could be and made him the only punter in history to be drafted in the first round. He was the 23rd overall pick in 1973 out of Southern Mississippi, where he was such a complete athlete that he intercepted 18 career passes as an All-America safety, kicked a then NCAA-record 61-yard field goal, played backup quarterback and pitched a no-hitter on the baseball team. He was drafted by four different major league baseball teams.
“I never thought I was what you call a pioneer,” Guy said. “I just played a game that everybody loved to play.”
He was already a legend at Thomson High School before ever embarking on the wider sports world, starring in football, baseball and track and field. One time on the way to a track meet, his coach stopped the bus to teach Guy how to do the awkward hop, skip and jump required in the triple jump. Later that day he won the event.
“I’ve got some tape of him in high school and you should have seen him block,” said former Thomson defensive coordinator John Barnett, who was in middle school when he watched Guy play for the Bulldogs’ back-to-back state championship teams in 1967-68. “THS ran the Notre Dame Box his senior year and they used him to trap the defensive tackle. Unbelievable.”
Barnett remembers Guy’s 88-yard punt in 1968 that stopped dead at the Washington-Wilkes 3-yard line despite little roll due to pregame “Biblical floods” that nearly forced postponement. Guy averaged 49.7 yards per punt as a senior.
And Guy grudgingly chopped barbecue with stitches on his chin the day after he suffered the injury blocking a field goal in the final minutes to preserve Thomson’s 7-6 state title victory over Carrollton.
In Oakland, all Guy was asked to do was what he did best – punt. And he did it so well for 14 seasons that he redefined the position and made himself a household name among football fans. He was the kind of punter who kept your attention instead of getting a head start on a bathroom break or a concessions run on fourth downs. You never knew when he might hit the ceiling in the Superdome or Astrodome or launch some other-worldly kick into the stratosphere that made fans go “Oooooooo” and statisticians start charting hang time.
Ray Guy was frankly the most famous name in punting and still is, which is saying something for a position often overlooked. He was the one picked to anchor the NFL’s 75th Anniversary team in 1994, to which NFL historian Joe Horrigan cited him as the rare punter you could realistically say “won games” based on his talents.
Guy became the first punter inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2004.
“This will put more emphasis on the kicking game and give credit where credit’s due,” Guy said two weeks ago when he came to Augusta to present the collegiate award that bears his name.
His legend and the respect he built up in his hometown community is what led the Augusta Sports Council to establish the Ray Guy Award in 2000 to recognize the nation’s best collegiate punter. The idea was triggered by former sports council president Ed Presnell when he traveled to spring training to visit the Palm Beach Sports Council and discovered its sponsorship of the Lou Groza kicking award.
“We’ve got the best punter in history, why don’t we do that?” Presnell thought.
The Augusta Sports Council first sold the idea to Guy and then got ESPN on board to include the Ray Guy Award in its postseason collegiate awards show that precedes the Heisman Trophy presentation. A bronze likeness of Guy’s famous kicking pose was commissioned and in less than one year, the award went from idea to reality.
Now, Guy’s name is mentioned all season long on televised college games and watch lists – keeping his legacy at the forefront of the conversation while giving credit to a craft that had long been overlooked.
“We wanted it to be a long-term award to bring recognition to punters and to Ray Guy as the best punter in the history of football,” Presnell said. “I think that award helped reinvigorate interest in Ray’s career. Everywhere you turn and every punter gets recognized every week on a watch list and Ray Guy’s name is mentioned.”
It’s part of the enduring legacy that makes Guy’s “fame” worthy of induction.