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NFL

Ray Guy Was The Last King Of Hang Time

Super Bowl XV: Oakland Raiders Ray Guy (8) in action, punt vs Philadelphia Eagles.
Andy Hayt /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

Based on cursory research, the only punter most of you have heard of is Pat McAfee, due to his lack of sleeves or indoor voice. But before there was McAfee or about 6,000 other punters, there was the first real punter anyone genuinely noticed: Oakland Raider Ray Guy.

Punters have become less necessary evils, and contemporary punting orthodoxy on less than fourth-and-8 outside a team’s own 32-yard line is considered abject cowardice. But if Guy were playing today, that might need more than just a brief reconsideration. He’s the only punter ever to be named to the Hall of Fame, and nobody thinks that’s a stretch.

Guy died Thursday morning at the age of 72 following a lengthy illness, according to his alma mater Southern Mississippi. In his time, he was a genuine offensive weapon for his breathtaking hang time, distance and accuracy inside the 20-yard line. He was even a first-round draft choice in 1973, a decision that seemed so absurd yet worked so well that it was used as proof to defend the Raiders’ later first-round pick of placekicker Sebastian Janikowski.

Guy was absurdly good at something almost all other practitioners in the sport’s history have been only intermittently, which is why they have been largely treated as mostly glorified day laborers. He was also a safety at Southern Miss, and was drafted a total of four times by the Braves, Astros, and Reds as a pitcher, meaning all his limbs were quality appendages. “He threw harder than (Ken) Stabler,” John Madden told The Athletic’s Vic Tafur in 2014. “There is no question he was a real football player. I just didn’t let him play. He was too valuable as a punter.”

Let that last sentence rattle around your brainpan a moment. “Too valuable as a punter.” Even McAfee would have a hard time saying that out loud.

Guy, whose name is given to the award for the best college punter every year, was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014 after 22 years of eligibility and seven appearances as a finalist. It took the voters that long to bend their heads around the idea of a punter being famous, let alone valuable. Best of all, though, Guy was a rolling amazement because his leg seemed to curl over his helmet when he fully extended a kick, giving even casual fans the idea that this was something humans born to other humans simply cannot do.

For those who wish to eliminate the role of punter entirely (and we know you’re out there), they do a gross disservice to the best and most entertaining punter ever. His like will not be seen again because today’s coaches like to address failed kicks with immediate unemployment on Monday and new tryouts on Tuesday, and Guy was a Raider from start to finish. Fourteen years of magic at a job most people equate with effete lightweights gets you all the things Guy got out of football, and all he gave to it.