Ray Guy was delivering letters for a fundraising project he is doing at the University of Southern Mississippi on Wednesday when his phone rang. The voice on the other end was saying something about the Pro Football Hall of Fame and did Guy hear?
The Hall of Fame?
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And this is how the man who many consider to be the greatest punter ever learned he now has his best shot at the honor that has eluded him for years. The Hall's senior committee named Guy and former Atlanta Falcons star defensive end Claude Humphrey as its two finalists for the 2014 class. This means they automatically join the pool of 15 modern day players and will face a vote on the day before Super Bowl XLVIII next February.
Given that seven of the last eight senior nominees have been elected to the Hall, Guy's chances of getting to Canton are excellent.
"It was very exciting," Guy said when reached by phone on Wednesday.
One of the great injustices in the NFL is that Guy, a 14-year punter for the Raiders, is not in the Hall of Fame. Whenever anyone talked about punting in the 1970s and '80s, the first name they mentioned was his. Many football people say he revolutionized a previously-ignored position with his directional punts that were delivered with a leg kick as high and straight as a ballerina's.
But the Hall's voters – mostly made up of longtime football writers – never seemed convinced about Guy. Seven times they made him a finalist for the Hall only to vote him down for a myriad of reasons, including statistics that paled in comparison to today's punters and the fact he was a punter – a position several old-time football people do not consider to be worth mentioning with more rugged roles on the defensive or offensive line. It is the only regular position not represented in the Hall of Fame.
And to Guy, who is tall and white-haired and very much a Southerner, this fact "has gotten my goat."
He complained about it last year when Yahoo! Sports came to his office at Southern Miss for a story about the Hall, lamenting that those who didn't believe punters belonged in Canton were "stupid people."
"It's all politics, that's all it is," he said then. "It's the same of everything in life. Everything comes down to politics."
His words stirred a small frenzy. Debate about his omission from the Hall rose again. Then Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe wrote "Vote Ray Guy" on a yellow Post-it and later stuck the Post-it on his jersey in a silent protest that drew his position coach's ire and a $5,250 fine from the NFL. But Guy's dormant candidacy had received a boost. There was talk among voters that the senior committee would push him through to the final vote this year, his first as senior candidate. Then it happened.
Soon after the first phone call on Wednesday came word that Joe Horrigan, the Hall's vice president for communications, wanted to talk to him. He called Horrigan, who put him on a speaker phone with the senior committee members.
"I want to get in, yeah I really want to get in," Guy told the committee. "But more importantly you have to represent a position that has not gotten a lot of recognition. It's an important position."
Later he chucked into the phone. He saw what Kluwe did last season, wearing the tiny sign with his name on it and he seemed touched, especially because the two men didn't know each other. The moment he saw it, he knew Kluwe would be fined and he said he appreciated the sacrifice.
"I hear he's a guy who likes to speak his mind," said Guy, who has a prestigious collegiate award named in his honor.
Guy's election is still not a certainty. All candidates, including seniors, must receive at least 80 percent of the vote to get into the Hall. The panel of voters is still peppered with writers who do not think he is a Hall of Famer. But there is also an unspoken understanding that senior nominees have a much clearer path to election. Since their cases have already been debated by the senior committee, they usually get elected, especially in recent years.
If Guy is ever going to get in the Hall, this is the time. It will be hard for the senior committee to nominate him again next summer if he doesn't get the 80 percent in February. Still, he is optimistic because he knows he may never have a better chance.
And he laughed into the phone.
"Now I've got to sit and wait, I guess," he said.
Just as he has been doing for all these years.
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