It’s about dang time.
For 22 years, a man who fundamentally changed the way professional football is played waited for the phone to ring. And for 22 years, that phone remained silent. It remained silent because people thought punters were football players in name only. Few ever really noticed punters or took them seriously – unless, of course, they did something wrong. Many didn’t consider punters real athletes, but Oakland Raiders punter Ray Guy made some people change their thinking with his strength, athleticism and, obviously, that huge, booming leg that very nearly sent footballs into orbit.
And finally, an honor that was incredibly – and embarrassingly – long overdue was awarded to Guy with his induction into Pro Football’s Hall of Fame.
Guy shattered the perception that punters aren’t athletes. Standing 6-foot-3 and weighing close to 200 pounds, Guy was the starting strong safety at Southern Mississippi, and was so good as a pitcher that the Atlanta Braves, Houston Astros and Cincinnati Reds all drafted him. But Guy’s heart was with football.
Al Davis and the Raiders shocked the world – and drew quite a few laughs – when they selected Guy in the first round of the 1973 draft. Nobody drafted kickers, especially not in the first round. But Davis proved to have the magic eye because Guy turned out to be the best punter in the history of the game.
Guy quickly became one of the team’s deadliest weapons. The hang time on his punts averaged about two and a half days, which allowed his coverage team to do their jobs. Never once in his long, illustrious career did Guy have a punt returned for a touchdown, a remarkable statistic. Said his former teammate, and punt coverage team member George Atkinson:
“His ball was something different than other punters. It went straight up and you could barely see it, and then it was like a brick dropping out of the sky.”
Said his former coach, John Madden:
“I would tell our quarterbacks that they should never worry about throwing the ball away on third down. Because the worst thing that could happen was Ray would come in and punt. And that was pretty good. He was the best punter ever.”
Over the course of his 14-season career, Guy was named to seven Pro Bowls, amassed a per punt average of 42.4 (33.8 yard net), had only three of his 1,049 punts ever blocked and he had 201 punts downed inside the 20-yard-line – and that last stat doesn’t account for the first three seasons of Guy’s career when it wasn’t tracked. All of that is to say that any argument that Guy doesn’t belong in the NFL Hall of Fame is totally and completely invalid.
Guy changed the game of football and showed the world that punters are in fact athletes, and can certainly change the course of a game. Though his induction into the Hall of Fame was ridiculously long overdue, it was fantastic to see Ray Guy finally getting the recognition he deserves as one of the best to ever play the game.
It was a travesty that it took so long for Ray Guy to be enshrined in Canton. But as they say, good things come to those who wait and Guy waited with all of the grace, poise and dignity that he played the game with.
One travesty has now been corrected. Now let’s just hope that it doesn’t take as long for another deserving candidate – WR Tim Brown – to get his well deserved enshrinement in Canton.