Winners punt. I have re-iterated this truth hundreds of times. I have said it when watching college football with friends who are screaming for the coach to “Go for it!” on fourth down and one to go. I have said it when playing the various incarnations of Madden Football on the PlayStation over the years when friends go for fourth and thirteen because they are convinced their receiver will catch the Hail Mary hope. Winners punt. Punters win football games. Period.
That is why I find it particularly disconcerting that Ray Guy is not yet in the Football Hall of Fame. I’m not alone in this assessment. Vikings punter Chris Kluwe agrees with me, and he’s risked censure to say so. If you’d like to know the full details of why Ray Guy should be in the Hall of Fame, you can read this excellent article that deals with Guy and his NFL accomplishments. If you don’t want to bother reading football stats, here’s a quick summary:
- Ray Guy was the first full-time punter drafted in the first round.
- He practically invented hang time.
- He mastered kicking the ball out of bounds deep in the opponent’s territory before anyone started doing that routinely.
- He made the entire NFL realize that punting was not just a surrender move.
A punt is not a surrender, even though it may feel like it. It’s a strategic play in every football team’s arsenal. Imagine how very different football would be without the punt. You don’t get the first down on your own twenty? Now the other team has it automatically in field goal range. With one kick, the opposing team has an extra forty yards to go. Punting is a no-brainer, and Ray Guy was one of the best at it. The stigma of a punt being a kind of “giving up” remains, and it’s probably one of the reasons that Guy isn’t already in the Hall. Right now, sports writers and Hall of Fame alumni vote. Those alumni are linebackers, quarterbacks, running backs, and lineman — but hardly a single kicker in the lot.
It’s simply a fact of football that kickers are a bit of an outsider in their own sport. They come on the field two to eight plays a game. They kick the ball and they head back to the sidelines. Gnarly old lineman who have to bust heads every play might resent the skinny kicker who comes on to pooch punt a few times a game. It’s a kind of professional resentment, and it conveys the idea that kickers aren’t really football players after all. They’re just, well, kickers.
But if the Hall of Fame is going to be about football’s best, most influential, and game-changing players, then certain punters ought to be in there. Ray Guy is one of those players. Paul’s analogy of the Church being one “body” made up of different parts fits quite nicely into this story. Paul writes, “God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:24-26).
Running backs who have to pound the ball up the middle play after play may resent the punter’s comparatively “easy” job, but they must admit that without him, they’d lose the game. Ray Guy was one of the best punters of his era, and his style and placement changed the game of football. It’s only bias that keeps him out of the Hall of Fame, and it’s high time that football did a better job of recognizing the fact that punters are football players too.