Ray Guy still awaits elusive call

Published 10:00 am Thursday, January 30, 2014

By Jason Munz

Hattiesburg American

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) — It’s been hanging over his head the way his legendary, booming punts did for so many years both at Southern Miss and in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders.

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The man who invented hang time, who is the only punter drafted in the first round in NFL history, and who perfected the art of field position remains on the outside looking in.

Ray Guy — the undisputed best punter in the history of the game — has done it all. The Swainsboro, Ga., native and Hattiesburg resident is a three-time Super Bowl winner, a collegiate All-American, a seven-time Pro Bowler and was named to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time Team and the NFL All-Century Team. Even the annual award given to college football’s best punter is named after Guy.

However, inclusion among the most elite group of football players in the world has somehow eluded him. Seven times before, Guy has been a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Each time, the 64-year-old has come up short of the necessary 80 percent of the vote.

“Every time you don’t get the phone call, it’s a little disappointing,” Guy said. “It’s like you’ve got a heavy weight on you — like it’ll never get here.”

A trailblazer in many ways, Guy once again will be among the finalists up for induction, this time as a senior nominee. The 46-member selection committee will vote Saturday in New York, and if he’s elected, he would be the first punter enshrined in the 280-member club.

The official announcement is expected Saturday.

Having been through this seven times before, Guy is doing his best to remain as even-keeled as possible.

“I’m trying not to get over-excited or over-enthused about what might come up,” he said. “Now, don’t get me wrong. Man, I would love for it to happen. That way, we can put what you might call the final pinnacle of my career on the shelf.

“But you just don’t know.”

Should Guy, who currently serves as the director of the M-Club and Community Relations for the Southern Miss Alumni Association, be elected Saturday, it wouldn’t be the first Hall he’s graced.

Already a member of the Mississippi and Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, as well as Southern Miss’ M-Club Hall of Fame, Guy became the first punter and first Golden Eagle to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2004.

For many years, the argument about whether Guy deserves a spot alongside the greatest professional football players in history has been made time and again. Southern Miss athletic director Bill McGillis makes a compelling one.

“Very few players, including many of those in the Hall of Fame, have left a legacy like he has,” McGillis said. “He’s so deserving of this honor, and it’s overdue. Arguably, no player at his position has impacted the sport more than him.”

Guy has heard the same arguments, both for and against his candidacy. Some have contended that no punter deserves to be inducted until Guy is elected.

He disagrees.

“There are a bunch of them out there that should have the opportunity to go into the Hall of Fame whether I do or not,” Guy said. “If one of them does, and I don’t, I’m still proud.”

The lean, 6-foot-3 Guy wasn’t always primarily a punter. At Southern Miss, he handled place-kicking duties and was a feared defensive back. Guy, who played at Southern Miss from 1970 to 1972, still has the second-most career interceptions in school history. Former NFL star defensive back Patrick Surtain is third on the same list.

James Berry served as the Golden Eagles’ secondary coach during Guy’s playing career in Hattiesburg. He recalled one moment that illustrates just how much stock then-Southern Miss head coach P.W. Underwood put into Guy’s value on special teams.

“I think we were playing Florida State, and we had Ray in there at corner,” Berry said. “Because he had such good ability. He got hurt or something, or got knocked down. P.W. grabbed me, and said, ‘Get him outta there!’ Because we couldn’t afford to lose him on special teams.”

Guy said he’s come to understand that much of what is said about him and his candidacy hardly matters when it comes down to brass tacks.

“I always got positive feedback from sports writers or even some of the committee members,” he said. “And that’s good. But the thing is, it’s the day of the voting, when everybody goes into that room as one. I know firsthand, when they step inside that room and close that door, things change.”

Guy reiterated he’s made peace with whatever decision the selection committee makes. But that won’t keep him from celebrating if the long-awaited call finally reaches him.

“I’m going up there Friday. Hopefully something will transpire out of it,” he said. “And if it does, you’ll hear me all the way from New York.”