Former Josey star Deon Grant, wearing his 2012 Super Bowl ring at the annual All-Area Football Banquet, leaned across the table during the introduction of Thomson punting legend Ray Guy.
“He’s not in the Hall of Fame?” Grant asked.
Guy – arguably the most famous and influential punter in the history of the game – has remained a puzzling exclusion from the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Seven times in his window of eligibility Guy got as far as a finalist on the ballot given to the 46-member voting panel. All seven times he was shot down, leaving the Canton, Ohio, shrine without a single true punter among its collection of bronze busts.
Perhaps that glaring omission is on the verge of being corrected. Guy, now 63, and former Atlanta Falcons defensive end Claude Humphrey were nominated by the Senior Committee as candidates for enshrinement. The voting panel will gather on the Saturday before the Super Bowl to vote, and the majority of senior candidates generally receive the 80-percent mandate needed for induction.
That’s not, however, a sure thing with Guy.
“The deal is we’ve got two more weeks of sitting around and waiting for the phone call and hope to God it comes in,” Guy said Thursday in Augusta, where he once again presented the award in his name to the top collegiate punter in the nation. “So, that’s all I can do is just sit there.”
Guy has been sitting around waiting since he first became eligible for the Hall of Fame five years after his retirement in 1986. He’s the only exclusive punter in history to even be considered for the Hall of Fame. It was Guy who anchored the post on the NFL’s 75th Anniversary team.
But some voters simply refuse to give Guy his due – and probably won’t even though Senior Committee nominees don’t count against the limit of the other finalists on the ballot. Peter King, of Sports Illustrated, a long-time roadblock to Guy’s induction, still remains unconvinced that the former Raiders great who elevated punting in the public consciousness deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. He continually cites how Guy’s career 42.4 average isn’t remarkable and trails 82 other punters on the list – refusing to acknowledge the intangibles that made Guy’s career stand out.
“To me stats are an illustration of what somebody has done, but stats really do not tell the whole story as far as a punter’s concerned,” Guy said. “There are going to be circumstances during the course of a game where you might have an opportunity to boom a big one. But you have options to look at. You’ve got to determine what you want to do with it. Do you want to sacrifice a little yardage to maintain field position? I don’t have the greatest statistics in the world. Statistics didn’t mean much to me.”
There is enough statistical evidence, however, to legitimize Guy’s campaign. He never once skipped a day of work in 207 games. He never had a punt returned on him for a touchdown and had only three of 1,049 blocked. He had a record 111 postseason kicks as well. He played in seven Pro Bowls. He won three Super Bowls. He kicked an 88-yarder in high school, a 93-yarder in college and one NFL season had five punts more than 60 yards. In his penultimate season, he pinned 35 percent of his 89 punts inside the 20 and had 71 percent of them unreturned.
Guy – whose kicks famously hit the ceiling in both the Superdome and Astrodome – invented the concept of hang time to allow his coverage team to prevent returns. He was one of the pioneering masters of directional kicking to pin opponents down inside their own 20. His efficiency launched the keeping of net yardage.
And the final postseason impression Guy made should be evidence enough of his effectiveness and how it can alter a game. In his third and final Super Bowl – a lopsided 38-9 Raiders victory over the Redskins in 1984 – Guy is the player who tipped the game for Oakland when it was still up for grabs in the first half.
He made a leaping one-handed catch of Todd Christiansen’s wild snap and got off a 42-yarder that altered the ever-important field position battle. Then late in the second quarter, Guy pinned the Redskins at their own 12 with a 27-yard punt. On the next play, Joe Theismann’s screen pass was intercepted and returned for a Raider touchdown that sparked the rout.
These are the kinds of things modern coaches rave about when they place equal weight on the three elements of the game – offense, defense AND special teams.
“Field position is a big part of today’s game,” said Ken Whisenhunt, the Augusta native who just accepted his second NFL head coaching stint, at Tennessee. “Being able to change field position with your special teams is an under-appreciated part of the game. (Guy) was ahead of the curve with that as a guy who could change the field for you. There’s no question in my mind that he was. I certainly hope that he gets in. He deserves it.”
Not only does Guy deserve it, special teams players in general deserve it. They fill a vital role in the game of football, yet place-kicker Jan Stenerud is the only pure special teams performer among the 249 players enshrined in the Hall. It’s not a reach to wonder if any punter will ever prove worthy if Guy doesn’t crack the ceiling.
“It’s baffling to me and a lot of other people that there’s no rhyme or reason why somebody has not filled that position in years before,” Guy said. “Because it is a position on a team regardless of how you pick and choose the importance of it. Every position is important and you have to play that position regardless of what it calls for you to do.”
Guy could have played others. He was as good an all-around athlete who’s ever punted. He made 18 interceptions in college at Southern Mississippi. He also played quarterback, and served as the emergency third-string QB for the Raiders. He was drafted by four different Major League Baseball teams, including the Reds (twice) and Braves for his arm that produced a no-hitter in college.
He’s the kind of sports legend that deserves to be a Hall of Famer and on Feb. 1 he hopes to finally get that call.
“If you hear somebody from 500 miles away screaming and hollering on that Saturday, that’s me,” he said. “I will be elated. It will be emotional because the fans and former players would get their just due. They’ve waited just as long as I have.
“If it doesn’t, I’ll just go on the way I’ve been goin’ on.”
If it doesn’t happen, that will be crazy.