Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Ray Guy

Hearty, neon-lit, back-slapping congratulations to newly-minted Hall of Famer Ray Guy. He's the first player admitted to the Football Hall of Fame as a punter, and it's an honor as deserved as it is overdue.

I'm mystified why it took fifty-plus years for the Hall of Fame to recognize a punter. It's ludicrous that the National Football League would establish the position and then ignore those who excelled at it.

If you've ever been a football fan and watched the game, the notion that kickers and the units they perform on (called special teams) are inconsequential is ignorant. I've forgotten how many times I saw momentum shift after a well-placed punt pinned the opposition behind its ten-yard line and saved a stalled offense's bacon.

It's a game-changer in the same sense that an interception, a fumble recovery or even a touchdown is. And Ray Guy changed a lot of games.

Don't think a punter or special teams are important? Ask the coach of the team that struggles in those areas. None other than Hall of Fame coach John Madden said Ray Guy was often their “best defensive player—by far.”

It's no coincidence that the Chicago Bears 2013 defensive woes occurred after losing special teams coach Dave Toub. Under his tutelage, the unit was regularly one of the NFL's best, and masked many weaknesses.

But this is about Ray Guy, not the Chicago Bears.

Knowing the worst outcome of a failed drive was a Ray Guy punt left the Raiders offense free to operate wide-open, in the same sense that a basketball guard can gamble on defense when he knows there's a powerful, shot-blocking center behind him.

On a team as dominant as the nineteen-seventies Oakland Raiders were, that was not insignificant.

Now that the Football Hall of Fame has finally addressed its arrogant and exclusionary history of denying punters (and while I'm at it—place kickers) admittance, here's hoping it can look back and give those who contributed to the game it celebrates their rightful due.

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