Guy speaks in Augusta, now a Hall of Fame selection
AUGUSTA — Former NFL punter Ray Guy has spoken at plenty of awards ceremonies. After all, the punting award in major college football is named in his honor.
Yet, Thursday’s Greater Augusta Medals for Excellence in Sports Awards, presented by the Augusta Sports Council, were something of a new experience for Guy. He was speaking as an elected member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“It’s hard to explain the weight that has now been thrown to the ground after February,” he said in a news conference.
On Feb. 1, Guy – who last played in 1986 – became the first punter to be elected to the Hall of Fame, a selection of the Senior Committee after years of missing out on election as a normal candidate. The three-time Super Bowl champion and seven-time Pro Bowler said the years that he wasn’t selected were difficult. Especially since so many of the voters, primarily sportswriters, had never been a punter, where his “one swing of the leg” could help determine the game’s outcome.
Detractors noted that punters are only on the field for a handful of plays per game, among other critiques.
“It’s hard for me to comprehend or understand the thinking of someone who’s analyzing this … even though they’ve never done it,” he said.
His frustrations were not purely for his own sake, Guy said. The Thomson, Georgia, native and Southern Miss graduate teaches a camp for young punters each year, and he was worried about the message that his exclusion would send to the next generation learning the craft of punting.
“To me, when these young kids hear that, what are they thinking?” he reasoned. “Are they thinking, ‘Am I wasting my time?’”
Knowing that he had now been out of the league the required 25 years to be considered by the Senior Committee, Guy said he knew the odds favored him and former Atlanta Falcon Claude Humphrey. But the call he got saying that he would need to fly to New York with the rest of the finalists still caught him off-guard.
“The odds were pretty much in our favor, but I still didn’t want to get too excited,” he said.
When Guy’s cell phone did ring in his New York hotel room, it wasn’t just any Hall staff or committee member. The number, which Guy didn’t recognize, belonged to Hall president David Baker.
“‘I want to be the person to congratulate you to be a member of the 2014 class of the Hall of Fame,’” Guy recalled as Baker’s words that night.
Guy said he had resigned himself that evening to the fact that he had come up short, as the minutes passed in the designated hour he had been given as the time notification would come his way. Once he got that phone call, Guy said he was overcome with emotion.
“It really still has yet to, what I’m calling, soak in and start growing,” he said.
For many, the Hall selection was long overdue for Guy. During his 13-year career with the Oakland and Los Angeles Raiders, Guy was known as the game’s top punter. That designation grew, in Guy’s estimation, in the late 1970s and early 1980s when a conversation with fellow punter Sammy Baugh led him to the technique of directional punting.
Coupled with Guy’s already impressive hang time – a term that he claims Raiders coach John Madden coined despite having “no idea how to work a stop watch” – the new-found capability to choose which direction he would send the punt returner was a game-changer.
“All it is, is that first initial step, directional step,” Guy said, noting the ease with which he implemented the new strategy. “It wasn’t a big change.”
The change forced punt returners to adapt to Guy’s decision and helped him limit punt returns to an average of less than 9 yards per punt. He grew so confident and proficient with the technique that the Raider coaching staff began letting him call the shots on the punt team.
“I got to where I wouldn’t ever punt down the middle of the field, even out of the end zone,” he said. “I knew I could this and do this consistently … when they would actually come to me and say, ‘What do you want to do with this?’ … You talk about a confidence-booster.”
Guy’s career numbers alone could have been enough to boost his confidence. He had a streak of 619 punts without a block, had a career average of 42.4 yards per punt and logged five punts of 60 yards or more in the 1981 season alone.
He also once punted the ball so high at the Louisiana Superdome that it hit the video screen.
None of that, even being regarded as the punter that made the position a strategic one with his emphasis on both height and direction of the kick, is reason to boast in Guy’s estimation, though. He said it was “just a job” that he held for the Raiders.
“I don’t want to be recognized as the leader,” he said. “I’m just one of the guys. I did my job, and I did it good.”
When he addressed the GAMES honorees, which included Midland Valley’s Amber Hong and Daniel Carr, he again downplayed his own role in his remarkable talent. He said that each of them, like him, was given the ability to play a sport.
“And it just came easy to me, but the Lord just gave me a lot of ability,” he said.
What he is proud of is the fleet of young punters he’s taught has his camps. Currently, 12 are in the NFL, including Pro Bowlers Shane Lechler of the Houston Texans and Andy Lee of the San Francisco 49ers.
“We’ve got some great punters out there, and I know who they are because I taught them,” Guy said. “I’m like a father that’s got 1,400 kids. … I’m proud of every one of them.”
He also has two biological children, Ryan and Amber. His phone call to Amber after his selection for the Hall was an emotional one, he said, and while he hasn’t completed his acceptance speech yet, he knows his time on stage in Canton, Ohio, will be another.
He said also knows that he will give credit to his high school, college and professional-level coaches, from former Thomson coach Paul Leroy to Madden, a hall-of-famer in his own right. He also made sure the young athletes at the GAMES banquet realized that their teammates were as much a part of their success as anyone.
“This is my name on this, but when I go up to Canton to accept this, it’s not mine,” he said of his hall-of-fame status. “It’s ours.”
Earlier in the day, he noted that Hall of Fame wide receiver Cris Carter has already given him a little insight into what that experience will be like.
“‘When you walk up there on that stage and Coach madden puts that jacket around you … it’s like a magical transformation,’” Guy said of Carter’s words. “I said, ‘I can’t wait.’”
Finally, he won’t have to.
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University. Follow him on Twitter @ASJTimm.
At a glance
Area GAMES Awards honorees
• Daniel Carr, Midland Valley
Outstanding Female Athlete
• Amber Hong, Midland Valley