In an overdue step in the right direction, former Oakland Raiders punter Ray Guy, as well as former defensive lineman Claude Humphrey, were named Wednesday by the Seniors Selection Committee to be among the final 17 candidates considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2014.
This means they will join 15 yet-to-be-named modern-era candidates on the list of finalists from which the Class of 2014 will be selected. The Hall of Fame selection meeting will be held Feb. 1, 2014, the day before Super Bowl XLVIII in New York/New Jersey.
Although Ira Miller of The Sports Xchange was a key proponent for Guy on the Seniors Committee, the great punter had strong backing from two Hall of Fame player advisers — Joe DeLamielleure and Ken Houston, who knew Guy’s abilities firsthand.
DeLamielleure played for the Buffalo Bills (1973-75, 1985) and the Cleveland Browns (1980-84). Houston was with the Houston Oilers (1967-72) and Washington Redskins (1973-80).
Although 15 senior players were considered, the primary goal of DeLamieleure and Houston going into Wednesday’s meetings was to nominate Guy, The Sports Xchange was told by a source close to the process.
Their focus reflects the opinions, and dismay, of many who cannot understand why Guy is not already in the Hall of Fame.
Guy was the first punter drafted in the first round when the Oakland Raiders selected him as the 23rd overall pick in the 1973 NFL Draft. He was All-Pro six straight times from 1973 to 1978 and was named to seven Pro Bowl teams.
Guy played in 207 consecutive regular-season games and 22 postseason games, including three Super Bowls. In 1994, Guy was named as the punter on the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-time team.
Humphrey was selected as the third player overall in the 1968 draft by the Atlanta Falcons and was the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Sacks did not become an official statistic until 1982, but Humphrey is unofficially credited as having 122 career sacks with the Falcons (1968-1978) and Philadelphia Eagles (1979-1981).
Humphrey was a five-time All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowl pick and fought back from a potential career-ending knee injury that forced him to miss the entire 1975 season. He compiled a career-high 15 sacks in 1976. He finished his career with three final seasons in Philadelphia, including a 1980 season in which he had 14.5 sacks as the Eagles won the NFC championship and a berth in Super Bowl XV.
Neither senior candidate is assured of being named to the Hall of Fame. But they will be, as those on the selection committee say it, “in the room” for discussion when the decision is made the day before the Super Bowl.
But they have both been “in the room before.” In fact, Humphrey was nominated into the room by the senior committee for consideration in the 2009 class. Before that, he was a traditional finalists three times (2003, 2005, 2006).
This is Guy’s first nomination by the seniors committee, but he is well known “in the room” after being a traditional finalist seven times — 1992, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2002, 2007 and 2008.
This ranks him as the most enduring and controversial Hall of Fame candidate in history who is not yet in the Hall.
Part of the challenge is that he was, after all, only a punter. When voters had to select between a one-down and three-down player, it didn’t work for Guy. Also, his raw statistics do not reflect his impact on the game, with recent Raider Shane Lechler, among others, breaking Guy’s marks for average per year and career average.
But Guy popularized the terminology “Hang Time” with many of his punts remaining airborne for more than five seconds. His name was long synonymous with great punting and the annual award for the best college punter is named after Ray Guy.
Now he will be “in the room” for a ninth time and it will be up to the selection committee to decide whether to vote him in now, or punt and wait until he is finally in the room and in the Hall of Fame one last time.
And that is inevitable.
Frank Cooney is Publisher for The Sports Xchange and, as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee, introduced Guy “in the room” on those previous seven failed chances as a finalist.