Extra Points: The unlikeliest legend takes his place in Canton

 

The Sports Network

Canton, OH (SportsNetwork.com) - Coca-Cola has a new "Share a Coke" summer campaign that, for the first time, replaces its famous logo with 250 different names.

Everything from Aaron to Zach were among the monikers selected but for those with far more unique handles, Coke also put a number of generic options on certain cans. Things like "BFF," "Friend" and "Star" were utilized.

Coke products happened to be in the press box at Fawcett Stadium in Canton on Saturday and when I reached to grab one, I came out with "Legend."

Apropos considering the Pro Football Hall of Fame was getting set to welcome seven new members, including former Tampa Bay linebacker Derek Brooks, ex- Giants pass-rushing star Michael Strahan, former Bills pass-catching star Andre Reed, ex-Seattle left tackle Walter Jones, ball-hawking Cardinals and Rams defensive back Aeneas Williams, and former Falcons and Eagles defensive end Claude Humphrey.

The one player inducted Saturday that defines the word "legend" best, however is perhaps the greatest punter of all-time, former Oakland Raiders field- tilter Ray Guy.

It took over 20 years for Guy to reach football immortality but chalk that up to narrow-minded voters analyzing statistics out of context, and being dismissive of the position as a whole.

"Ray could have been considered our most valuable player every year," Raiders Hall of Fame receiver Fred Biletnikoff explained. "He was the one constant whose performance in every game gave us a chance to win. Statistics didn't do him justice. Ray sacrificed those for good of the team."

Guy is the standard every other punter should be measured on, a player known for his booming hang time which dwarfed his peers, along with his ability to pin teams inside the 20-yard line. In fact, the term "hang time" was developed from the awe-inspiring height Guy would get on his punts, enabling Raiders' coverage teams to easily close in on the opposition's returner.

Guy was the first punter selected in the opening round of the NFL Draft, No. 23 overall out of Southern Mississippi in 1973, and now is the first pure punter ever admitted to Canton.

"I would tell our quarterbacks that they should never worry about throwing the ball away on third down," former Raiders coach John Madden, who inducted Guy, told the San Francisco Chronicle. "Because the worst thing that could happen was Ray would come in and punt. And that was pretty good. He was the best punter ever."

If an organization chose a punter on the first day of the draft today, it would rightfully be ridiculed but the game was different in the early 1970s and Guy proved to be one of Al Davis' best moves, a key cog in the dominant "Just Win Baby" Oakland teams that captured Super Bowls XI, XV and XVIII.

Guy led the NFL in punting during the 1974, '75 and '77 seasons and was a veteran of 22 postseason games, including seven different AFC Championship tilts. Meanwhile, his prodigious leg was the first to hit the Superdome's scoreboard during the 1977 Pro Bowl.

"Having Ray Guy meant having a chance to make the playoffs and win the Super Bowl," Raiders Hall of Fame cornerback Willie Brown. "He was just that strong because his ability to punt -- when we needed a long punt, he did it; when we needed a short punt, he did all that. He kept opposing offensive teams back in the hole a majority of the time."

Guy was also a great athlete who happened to be a starting safety at Southern Miss and a baseball pitcher with enough upside to be drafted by the Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds and Houston Astros. He had such a strong, accurate passing arm (many will tell you he had a much better fastball than Raiders star signal caller Ken Stabler) that he often doubled as the Raiders' emergency QB.

"Ray Guy was a football player that punted," Madden said. "He threw harder than Stabler. There is no question he was a real football player. I just didn't let him play. He was too valuable as a punter."

"Ray was more than just a punter," added another former coach, Tom Flores. "He was a great athlete. People forget what a great athlete he was in college. He was an outstanding tackler. He could run and jump, so he was one of the best athletes we had on the team."

The best indicator of Guy's dominance, was his six straight All-Pro nods between 1973-78.

Almost 20 former NFL punters came to Canton to see of their own finally inducted, a sentiment Guy tapped into when his induction was announced.

"This is our chance to stand up and be counted as real people, real football players," he said. "I'm the one going into the Hall of Fame, but I carry with me the punts of all punters."

Now 64 years old, Guy was a finalist seven times before finally getting the call through the Senior Committee.

Things haven't always gone that smoothly for him in the nearly 30 years since he hung up the cleats back in 1986. In 2011, he declared bankruptcy and put his three Super Bowl rings up for auction.

"It's been a long up-and-down road," Guy said. "Everyone goes through tough times. Sometimes you have to do things you don't want to do."

His greatness on the field forced a number of writers who serve on the senior committee to do something they never wanted to do -- admit punters are players too.

"It doesn't matter how long you play in the game," Guy said. "It matters what you do on the one play that matters, the one that makes a difference between winning and losing."

And believe it or not, that one play could be a punt.

"He's the first punter you could look at and say: 'He won games.'" Hall of Fame historian Joe Horrigan said.

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