Ray Guy went to a Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 1992. The legendary punter had just become eligible, but the celebration wasn’t for him.
He came to Canton, Ohio to support Raiders owner Al Davis, who was finally honored for a lifetime’s achievements as a coach, commissioner and team executive. He went to honor a pioneer with enough guts to select him in the first round of the NFL draft and keep him in the Raider family for 14 seasons.
Guy was a finalist himself that year, but wasn’t elected along with his friend and employer. Most figured Guy would get in soon. He was, after all, considered the greatest punter in football history.
No one could’ve expected it to take this long. Roughly 22 years after that trip, Guy will return to take his rightful place among football’s immortals.
There has been plenty of frustration along the way. He’s dealt with close calls and positional prejudice during a quest to become the first punter to enter the Hall of Fame, but remains proud to have broken the barrier.
Guy’s formal induction comes Saturday along with the entire class of 2014. Former Raiders coach John Madden will introduce him. Despite all Madden did for Guy, he was the punter’s second choice.
He wanted Al. He wanted the man who took a chance on a Southern kid with a booming leg, and paved a road for greatness.
“I wanted Al to do it, but of course he’s not going to be able to be there,” Guy said. “Well, he’ll be there. He’s just not there verbally introducing me.”
Guy believes the Maverick will be watching over him on Saturday, just as he did throughout a storied career. We all know that Guy was an innovator, that hang time was a stat invented for him. We know about the coffin corner, the remarkable athleticism and all three Super Bowl rings.
Guy knows all that came after Al gave him his start. The six months between election and induction have been a whirlwind full of press and planning for a big day that will complete his athletic career.
The next step is how to thank those that got him there.
“The speech has been kind of tough for me to compose it, put it exactly the way I want it and describe how I feel and how I got to this point in my career, which is pretty much the last thing I’ll ever do as far as sports are concerned,” Guy said. “It’s been kind of tough as far as sitting down and really putting it into words. But, I think I’ve pretty well got it organized the way that I think.”
Guy has chosen a fitting theme: “I call it the long journey to the Hall.”
It took over two decades for Guy to join this exclusive group. He burned through standard eligibility without reward. He was a finalist seven times, but concluded the process in disappointment. Finally, based a senior committee recommendation, Guy got in.
Time has thinned his ranks, and some important people will miss Guy’s big day.
“It’s going to be tough,” Guy said. “The reason being is because there are certain people in my life that were very influential on me, along with my high school coach isn’t going to be there, my college coach won’t be there, of course Al Davis won’t be there, mom and dad are gone. So there are things that matter that are going to be very emotional.
“But, yet, in turn, I’ll pretty much highlight the road I took to the final destination of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”
Sometimes, with one snub after another, the high road wasn’t always easy to take. Guy was openly angry about being snubbed. He was frustrated by a process that kept him outside the velvet rope, but never lost hope that a wrong would be made right.
It finally has, and Guy has enjoyed the experience. He’ll revel in the moment, and crusade for other deserving specialists to join him in the Hall.
This weekend, though, it about a career well spent. Guy is so proud to have done so with the Raiders.
“We’re still a family, and I do know that phrase I learned that a few years ago, ‘Once you’re a Raider, you’re always a Raider,’” Guy said. “That’s the way it’s going to be and that’s the way I want it to end.”