Ray Guy was on the job in Florida a few weeks ago when his wife called to deliver the news.
To say this was news wouldn't be precise. It has been nine years, after all, since the 51-year-old became eligible for induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. And nine straight years he was denied entry.
So the recent news that the Thomson native wasn't included on the Hall's list of 15 finalists for its 2001 class really was no news at all.
"It's just the way it goes," Guy said. "You sit there, and you think, `Well, maybe this is the year,' or whatever. And I'm sure everybody else does too who has been eligible as long or longer than I have."
Guy was speaking by phone from West Palm Beach, Fla., where he sells insurance for AFLAC. The man who made punting an art form for the Raiders of Oakland and Los Angeles during a 14-year career in the National Football League said he used to let this stuff consume him. But lately, business and perspective have precluded most preoccupation with becoming enshrined.
"It's nothing you can sit and dwell on and get mad about anymore," Guy said. "I just go about my business, and one day I'll get the call, I guess."
MEMBERSHIP IN THE Hall is one of the few, if not the last, missing strokes Guy needs to complete a masterpiece of a career:
After playing at Thomson High School and the University of Southern Mississippi, Guy was drafted in the first round of the 1973 NFL Draft - the first punter ever taken in the opening round.
He played in seven Pro Bowls and amassed a streak of 619 unblocked punts in a career that included Super Bowl victories in 1977, 1981 and 1984.
Last summer, Guy was named to the NFL's All-Time team.
A year ago, he was named the punter in a poll that selected the best players at each position in Super Bowl history.
But perhaps the most satisfying accomplishment for Guy was his role in the institution of the Ray Guy Award, which honors the nation's top collegiate punter.
In December, Guy was in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., where he and a national television audience watched Wisconsin's Kevin Stemke receive the inaugural award at the College Football Awards Show.
Guy struggled for words to describe the symbolic experience: After years of seeing awards given to receivers, running backs, linebackers and quarterbacks, Guy and punters everywhere finally were getting recognition he said they deserved all along.
"A punter is just as important as anybody else on that football team," Guy said the week of the ceremony. "I controlled more field position than a quarterback ever did."
BUT GUY HASN'T been able to control the opinions of the Hall of Fame's board of selectors, many of whom don't believe punters deserve membership.
"A lot of voters simply will not vote for a player who has been a punter and only a punter," said Edwin Pope, a columnist for The Miami Herald and one of 38 Hall selectors.
The committee is composed of media representatives from each geographical area with a current NFL franchise, a representative of the Pro Football Writers Association of America, and six at-large delegates.
Every fall, the committee compiles a list of candidates to be pared to 15 by January. Guy was on the list of 78 former NFL players, coaches and contributors that was announced in October, but he was omitted from the 15 finalists named in early January.
To earn election, a finalist must receive a minimum 80 percent of the vote, and any member of the final six who is not elected automatically will be one of the 15 finalists the next year.
There are no punters among the 204 members of the Hall of Fame, which will add between four and seven enshrinees today, and only place-kicker Jan Stenerud was a full-time kicker.
"My conclusion is that a pure punter probably never will get into the Hall of Fame," said Furman Bisher, senior columnist at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and a member of the board of selectors. "In the past, there have been punters - Sammy Baugh, for instance - but they also played other positions. Guy was superb at what he did, and he has made the final (15) a time or two, but I'm afraid that's as far as he'll make it."
Rick Gosselin, a member of the board who writes for The Dallas Morning News, said including specialists is "a tough case to argue."
"It's like relief pitchers in baseball," Gosselin said. "There's only one true place-kicker in the Hall, and no punter. When a punter is inducted, it will be Guy. But when will that be? I don't have an answer for that one."
Guy insists he harbors no animosity toward the selectors. After all, he said, they're just doing their jobs.
"I have no idea what they look at in what particular year," he said. "I'm sure there's a lot of things. It's whatever they feel at that particular time."
Al Davis, managing general partner of the Raiders and the man who drafted Guy 27 years ago, isn't as understanding.
"It's ridiculous," the 71-year-old said in December before he spoke at the Greater Augusta Sports Council Awards Gala. "People in charge don't seem to think that punting is real. I don't think they understand who helps win and who helps lose."
IN 1992, THE first year he was among the final 15 Hall nominees, Guy was overcome with a mixture of excitement and anxiety.
"The first year was really exciting," he said. "The first time being eligible, to be on the nominating list and making the final 15, that gets your heart pumping."
But as the years have passed, so has much of the disappointment. Guy's son, 23-year-old Ryan, said his father has learned to live with it.
"In a way it is disappointing for him," said Guy, a senior at Augusta State University. "But he really doesn't get his hopes up or talk much about it anymore."
Through his job and football functions, Guy said he frequently encounters former teammates who "tell me all the time that I'm going to get into the Hall."
"We sit and talk, and they say they know it's going to happen," he said. "It's just a matter of time."
But until the day comes, the easygoing Guy figures he'll just go on with life. No use getting worked up over something he can't control.
"When the time comes, it will happen - and that's just the way it is," he said. "The main thing is that I'm still recognizable, whether I'm on the final 15 every year or what. I've got my job to take care of, rather than sitting around thinking about it all the time."
Linebacker ... 1962-1968 Boston Patriots, 1969-1974, 1976 Miami Dolphins ... 14 seasons, 183 games ... During seven seasons with Dolphins, team made three consecutive Super Bowl appearances (Super Bowls VI, VII, VIII), winning two, including one coming after undefeated season in 1972.
Linebacker ... 1976-1988 New York Giants ... 13 seasons, 173 games ... Was a part of the famed Giants linebacker trio of Carson, Lawrence Taylor, and Carl Banks ... Selected to play in nine Pro Bowls, including seven straight (1982-1988)... All-Pro in 1984 and All-NFC in 1978, 1979, 1982, 1986.
Tight End ... 1974-1980 Oakland Raiders, 1980-1983 Houston Oilers, 1983 Minnesota Vikings, 1984 Los Angeles Raiders ... 11 seasons, 147 games ... Named All-Pro and All-AFC four consecutive years (1976-1979) ... Selected to play in five consecutive Pro Bowls, 1977 through 1981.
Defensive Tackle/Defensive End ... 1979-1990 Chicago Bears ... 12 seasons, 157 games ... Was a major contributor on 1985 Bears defense that allowed just 198 points and shut out both playoff opponents leading up to 46-10 victory over Patriots in Super Bowl XX ... Had 11« sacks in a season twice.
Cornerback ... 1977-1986 Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders ... 10 seasons, 149 games ... A bump-and-run specialist he recorded 39 interceptions for 572 yards and 4 touchdowns during 10-year career... Career interception total is team high, tied with Hall of Famer Willie Brown.
Coach ... 1978-1982 Kansas City Chiefs, 1986-1997 Buffalo Bills ... Regular season record: 143-112-0; postseason record: 11-8-0; overall record: 154-120-0 ... NFL Coach of the Year 1988; AFC Coach of the Year 1988, 1993, 1995. ... Guided Bills to playoffs eight times during his 11 seasons.
Wide Receiver ... 1980-1993 Washington Redskins, 1994 New York Jets, 1995 Philadelphia Eagles ... 16 seasons, 224 games ... Set then-NFL records for catches in a season (106), most consecutive games with at least one reception (183), and career receptions (820)... Finished with 940 catches.
Guard ... 1982-1993 Houston Oilers ... 12 seasons, 159 games ... Equally effective as pass or run blocker throughout his career ... Munchak led line that gave up just 24 quarterback sacks, fourth best in NFL ... Named All-Pro four times, All-AFC seven times and selected to play in nine Pro Bowls.
Coach ... 1983-1990 New York Giants, 1993-1996 New England Patriots, 1997-1999 New York Jets ... 15 seasons, 239 games ... Regular season record: 138-100-1; postseason record: 11-6; overall record: 149-106-1 ... Won the Super Bowl twice with the Giants (1986 and 1990).
Tackle ... 1976-1995 Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams ... 20 seasons, 259 games... Retired tied for third most seasons played in NFL history ... His 259 regular-season games played was most by offensive lineman at the time of his retirement. ... Played in 18 postseason games during his career.
Wide Receiver ... 1974-1987 Pittsburgh Steelers ... 14 seasons, 165 games... Career statistics: 537 receptions for 8,723 yards, 63 TDs ... Played in six AFC championship games, four Super Bowls ... Played in four Pro Bowl games ... Had 67-game pass-receiving streak, 1977-1982.
Wide Receiver ... 1974-1982 Pittsburgh Steelers ... Nine seasons, 115 games ... No. 1 draft pick (21st overall), 1974 ... Career record: 336 receptions for 5,462 yards, 51 touchdowns ... All-Pro, 1975, 1977, 1978, and All-AFC three times. ... Scored 318 points on 53 touchdowns during his career.
RALPH WILSON, JR.
Contributor ... 1959-present Buffalo Bills ... One of original founders of American Football League, Wilson formed Buffalo Bills in 1959 ... During tenure as team owner, Bills won AFL Championships in 1964 and 1965 and AFC titles 1990-93 to reach the Super Bowl for four consecutive years.
Tackle ... 1968-1981 Minnesota Vikings, 1982 Los Angeles Rams ... 15 seasons, 207 games ... Possessed speed, agility, intelligence, aggressiveness, hard-work ethic ... All-Pro, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976. ... Played in seven Pro Bowls, 1972-1978. ... Started in four Super Bowls.
Defensive End ... 1971-1984 Los Angeles Rams ... 14 seasons, 202 games ... Fractured left fibula in 1979 first-round playoff game, was fitted with plastic brace, played every defensive down in NFC title game, Super Bowl XIV ... Played in five NFC championship games ... All-Pro in 1974-76, '78-79.
Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645 or firstname.lastname@example.org.