Filed for print to run Saturday . . .
The chances of Ray Guy becoming the first punter to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame have never looked better.
“You want to get excited, but you don’t want to show it outside,’’ the former Raiders punter said this week from his office at Hattiesburg, Miss. “I’ve been through it before, but it doesn’t get any easier until you know for sure on Saturday.’’
Guy has been a finalist seven times, but this year was nominated by the nine-member seniors committee, a designation for players who haven’t played for 25 seasons.
Already a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, as well as those at his college in Southern Mississippi and the state sports Hall of Fames in Mississippi and Georgia, Guy would be the first pure punter elected.
He will still need 80 percent of the 46-member electorate (37 votes), but as a senior nominee, Guy and fellow senior candidate Claude Humphrey will be voted upon on a yes or no basis.
In previous years, Guy was considered along with other candidates with voters deciding which four or five to include. It put him in competition with fulltime players and left him short of the necessary 80 percent.
Coaches such as John Madden, Hank Stram and George Allen were all senior inductees, unable to get 80 percent of the vote when matched against players.
Seven of the last eight senior candidates have been enshrined, and 38 of 51 overall since the senior designation was added in 1972. According to Rick Gosselin, a columinist for the Dallas Morning News and a member of the senior committee, it increases Guy’s odds of getting good news.
“I like his chances because he’s a senior, thus he’s a stand-alone candidate not in competition with five modern-era candidates,’’ Gosselin said in an e-mail. “It’s either yea or nay. He’s worthy or else we wouldn’t have brought him out of the senior committee. We vet these guys pretty good.’’
Said Jim Trotter, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated and one of the 46 voters: “I feel this is the year Ray finally gets in. In the past he’s fought the bias that some voters have against specialists, but as a senior his chances increase significantly because he would not take an available spot from a position player.’’
Guy’s legend is superior to his statistics, which by modern standards are ordinary for a punter.
The Raiders made Guy the first punter to be selected in the first round of the draft in 1972. Guy said he never heard the term “hang time’’ until Madden used it to describe his booming kicks, which occasionally took more than five seconds to return to earth.
Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips once swiped a game ball after facing the Raiders and sent it to Rice University to have it tested for helium.
A gifted athlete, Guy’s 18 interceptions as a safety is ranks second in Southern Miss history and he was drafted three times as a pitching prospect by the Houston Astros, Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds. He is still on campus as the school’s director of community relations for the Southern Miss alumni association.
However, Guy’s career average for gross punting is 42.4 yards per kick, tied for 89th all-time. His season best of 45.3 yards in 1973 is tied for 168th.
Former Raiders punter Shane Lechler, by contrast, is has the highest average in NFL history (47.6) and a single-season best of 51.1 in 2009.
Mitigating circumstances in Guy’s case include playing for a strong Raiders team where he wasn’t called on as often to punt from deep in his own territory, instead angling for the sideline to get better field position.
From the years 1976-86, Guy had 210 punts inside the 20-yard line _ more than twice the amount of any other punter.
At his Hall induction in 2009, Madden said in his acceptance speech he believed the busts for each player talked to each other at night. If that’s the case, Guy’s presence would give Jan Stenerud some company.
Stenerud, elected to the Hall in 1991, is the only pure kicker in the Hall of Fame. His career field goal percentage of 67.8 is low by today’s standards, but he was one of the first dominant soccer-style kickers and helped change the way teams looked at scouting place kickers.
While admittedly partial to former teammate Jerrel Wilson, the Chiefs punter and contemporary of Guy, Stenerud said, “I expect Ray to get in. I think punting is important. In terms of field position he was tremendous and no punter was as universally known as Ray.’’
CBS analyst Steve Tasker, a 13-year veteran who was so good at kick coverage and blocking kicks Buffalo teammates such as Jim Kelly and Bruce Smith lobbied for his inclusion of Hall of Fame, said Guy’s name recognition counts for something.
“He’s the guy that set the bar,’’ Tasker said. “You talk to most people who watch the NFL, the only punter they can name, other than their own punter, is Ray. There’s something to be said for that.’’
Former Rams, Eagles and Chiefs head coach Dick Vermeil, hired as the NFL’s first special teams coach in 1969 by George Allen, is perplexed that there is no punter in the Hall.
“In think the general fan underestimates the value of field position,’’ Vermeil said. “Why would you exclude a punter if he was the best in his position in the history of the NFL?’’
Former Raiders coach Tom Flores considers Guy as worthy as any of the position players that helped him win two Super Bowls. Lost amid Marcus Allen’s 74-yard touchdown run and Jack Squirek’s interception for a touchdown in a 38-9 win over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII was a game-altering play by Guy with his back to the end zone.
“The ball was snapped 10 feet high, Ray somehow goes up and gets it, and gets off a 42-yard punt,’’ Flores said. “It could have changed the entire game. Nobody even talked about it.’’
Guy isn’t hoping to be a pioneer as much as he’s looking to give the Hall of Fame something it lacks.
“I’d love to be the first, but whether I am or I’m not it’s time to fill every position on a football team,’’ Guy said. “I’ve yet to see the great team that didn’t have a great punter.’’