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Thomson's Guy deserves spot in Hall of Fame and respect

He's been to the Pro Bowl seven times.

He's earned three Super Bowl rings.

He's already a member of the National High School Sports Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame.

But Ray Guy is looking for a little something extra: respect for the position he dominated in the pro ranks.

"It's not for me," he said. "I'm speaking for punters from way back to punters in college who look forward to this day. ... If they have nothing to look forward to, why even recognize (the position)?"

The best punter in pro football history spent Hall of Fame Saturday at home with his family and a small group of friends. He was outside when the announcement came: He wasn't part of the HOF Class of 2007. He'd been eliminated when judges cut the field of 15 down to 11.

In the past, Guy had taken the news with a "We'll get 'em next time" attitude.

Not this year.

This year, he'd had enough.

"What really bothers me about that whole scenario ... they do not recognize this as a position," the 57-year-old former Thomson High Bulldog said Saturday. "If you are not going to recognize it, why even have it? ... Why even draft it? I've held this back for a long time. The more I'm in it from year to year to year, the more it aggravates me."

The HOF voting committee - made up of media members from across the nation - had a list of 17 players, including 15 from the modern era, to cull down to the final six Saturday. The first cut, which took the list from 17 to 11, took about six hours.

And Guy saw the result as a slap in the face of all punters.

"I'm not begrudging the voters, but unless you've been there, unless you've actually done it and know what you are talking about, how can you assume it is not a position?" he said Saturday.

The 2007 inductees - Gene Hickerson, Michael Irvin, Bruce Matthews, Charlie Sanders, Thurman Thomas and Roger Wehrli - were announced during a Saturday afternoon press conference. Guy was aiming to be the first punter ever inducted into the Hall of Fame.

His career accolades are numerous:

- the first punter ever selected in the first round of the NFL Draft in 1973

- three Super Bowl championships

- seven Pro Bowl appearances

- member of the NFL's 75th anniversary all-time team

- member of the Super Bowl silver anniversary team

- member of the all-time NFL team

- career average of 42.5 yards per punt

- zero punts returned for a touchdown.

But none of that, apparently, has been enough to punch his ticket to Canton.

And it is a shame.

Worse than that, it's downright disrespectful.

Ray Guy was a great, great football player. And in a sports world that rewards and celebrates individual accomplishments, he turns all credit to his teammates.

"I never could have done what I did without those 10 guys in front of me," he said. 'I knew what they could do, and they knew what I could do, and we all had fun doing it."

On the field, Guy never focused on playing time, or how many times he touched the ball.

"I could have kicked the ball as high and as far as I wanted, but that wasn't my job," he said. "My job was to help the team."

In his life after professional football, his job has become helping the game. He spends his time working with younger players through his kicking camps, helping them improve their kicking and punting skills, and - most importantly - encouraging them to parlay their talent into a college education.

Now, following Saturday's announcement, he's focusing on another lesson: the importance of their position to the game.

"Already, (young punters) are working harder to produce and be part of a successful team and make their school successful," he said. "Seeing that makes me feel good."

Even if his call from Canton never comes, Guy will be OK. He knows he's making a difference in the lives of future players. The "thank you" e-mails tell him so. The constant interest in his camps tells him so. And guys like Mitch Berger and Nick Harris - both former Guy students - making it to the NFL tell him so.

Still, Guy wants to make sure that punters and kickers get their respect.

"I'm going to work harder ... to instill in these players their importance," he said. "My job is never done. It's a mission."

Web posted on Thursday, February 08, 2007

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