Those anxious seconds for punt returners awaiting his booming kicks were nothing compared to the more than two decades Guy had to endure before finally getting the call that he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The seemingly interminable wait will come to an end Saturday in Canton, Ohio, when Guy gets to put on the Hall of Fame blazer for the first time as he becomes the first true punter to get inducted into the exclusive club.
As much as Guy wanted personally to be a Hall of Famer, he also wanted it for his position, which he believed got disrespected every time he was passed over for the honor.
“That kind of bothered me because they were saying that’s not a position, it doesn’t take an athlete to do that, it’s not important,” Guy said. “That’s what really got under my skin. It wasn’t so much whether I did or didn’t. I wish somebody had. It was just knowing that they didn’t care.
“That’s what kind of frosted me a little bit.”
Guy was a finalist seven times starting in 1992 without being voted in and didn’t even make it that far countless others, leaving him to wonder if the call would ever come. He finally got in as a senior’s nominee this year, joining place-kicker Jan Stenerud as the only kickers in the Hall.
Guy is the perfect player to get the honor because he is credited with revolutionizing the position after being the only punter ever taken in the first round when Raiders owner Al Davis drafted him 23rd overall in 1973.
His kicks went so high that one that hit the Superdome scoreboard 90 feet above the field in a Pro Bowl helped put “hang time” into the football vernacular. His ability to pin the opponent deep with either high kicks or well-positioned ones was a key part of the success for the great Raiders teams of the 1970s and ’80s.
“It was something that was given to me. I don’t know how,” he said. “I’m really blessed in that category. It’s something I really appreciate and I advanced it and I made it into something great.”
Guy’s statistics look somewhat pedestrian compared to today’s punters. His career average of 42.4 yards per kick ranks 61st all-time and his net average of 32.2 yards (excluding his first three seasons when the statistic wasn’t kept by the NFL) isn’t even in the top 100.
Yet, he still is considered by many as the best to ever play the position and is widely respected in the fraternity of punters, including about 20 who plan to attend the induction.
“He should be first because he played his position in an outstanding manner in his era, and more important than that, he brought great notoriety to the position,” said Sean Landetta, who punted for 22 seasons in the NFL. “You’re talking about the Hall of Fame and the most famous punter is Ray Guy.”
Guy also earned the respect of his teammates on the Raiders, who considered him much more than a specialist and a key component on three Super Bowl champions with his ability to change field position every time he kicked the ball.
“It should not have taken this long to recognize him,” former Raiders defensive back George Atkinson said. “He was quite a weapon for us. Not only could he get the ball up high with hang time, but he also had great placement.”
Those are some of the reasons why Davis bucked conventional wisdom and took the Georgia-born Guy out of Southern Mississippi in 1973. One of the sad byproducts of Guy’s long wait to get into the Hall of Fame is that one of his biggest backers, Davis, won’t be there to see it. The former Raiders owner died in 2011.
Guy also said he will be emotional thinking of his deceased parents and his college coach, P.W. Underwood.
With Davis not there, Guy has chosen his Hall of Fame coach, John Madden, to introduce him. Guy also said it is comforting to know that Davis’ wife, Carol, and son, Mark, will be in the audience, along with many of his former teammates.
“That will make it a little bit easier, but the leader won’t be there,” he said. “But he will be. All he’s gonna say is, ‘Just win, baby.’”