Saturday, January 21, 2017

Fourth And Long: Ray Guy, HOF Class Of 2014

Appeared on in August 2014

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

He is an entrenched stereotype, fuel for jock-sarcasm, the butt of football jokes and the jester in the locker room. What could change everything? What would it take to earn the ultimate sign of respect from his peers? What would give football’s clown his day?

We have the long overdue answer. Drum roll…

Be a first round pick. Get elected to seven Pro Bowl teams. Earn first-team All-Pro honors six times. Win three Super Bowls. Be a member of the NFL’s 1970s All-Decade team and 75th Anniversary team. Execute your job 619 consecutive times without failure (in this case, a blocked kick). Have the trophy for best college player at your position named after you. 

That resume belongs to Ray Guy. The question, Jeopardy fans, is “What does it take for a punter to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame?” Now we know – finally. The credentials seem overwhelming, but it took an endorsement by the Hall of Fame’s Seniors Committee, 28 years after Guy’s retirement, to finally unlock Canton’s doors. Why? Because Guy was “just a punter.”

When he strides through the Hall’s doors on August 2, 2014, Guy, my uncle, will become the first exclusive punter to be enshrined. Think about that. Not the uncle part. That was a joke, unfortunately. In the first 60 years of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s existence, the NFL never saw fit to bestow its highest individual honor on a player who exclusively made his living by dropping a ball on his foot and launching it into the heavens (or, in modern terms, Jerry Jones’ ego-matching big screen).     
NFL…that’s a disgraceful record. If you have ever played sports, at damn near any level, among the first lessons you learn is to respect your teammates and the value of individual roles within the whole. A point guard distributes the basketball and a center rebounds. Leadoff batters take a lot of pitches; batters hit behind runners with less than two outs. A tackle blocks, a wide receiver catches, a quarterback throws and, despite the NFL’s latent acknowledgement, a punter punts.

This is a bit personal, not because I finally share a surname with a Hall of Famer, but because in a punter I see legitimate, ignored and serially mocked value. A good punter can neutralize a dynamic return man, control field position and consistently put a lot of demoralizing green between the opponent’s offense and the end zone. Punters are the equivalent of a three-point specialist in the NBA or a late inning defensive replacement in MLB – all key cogs to a winning formula.

Fine, they don’t always meet your image of a gridiron hero. Save for Todd Sauerbrun, look like they spend more time in yoga poses or within arms reach of a beer than they do under a bar stuffed on both ends with iron. They are quirky. Their shoes don’t always match. They’ve worn watches on the field (Reggie Roby’s legacy). They don’t run 4.3 40-yard dashes, blow up running backs in the hole or somersault defenders at the goal line. Being a man of average build, marginal athleticism and endearing idiosyncrasies, I can appreciate that. But that doesn’t mean punters aren’t part of the team. It doesn’t mean they aren’t football players. They are. My proof? Ray Guy’s bust.    

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