HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) - Ray Guy, the first punter to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame, died Thursday. He was 72.
Southern Mississippi, where Guy starred before becoming the first punter ever taken in the first round of the NFL draft, said he died following a lengthy illness. He had been receiving care in a Hattiesburg-area hospice.
Guy was drafted 23rd overall by Al Davis’ Raiders in 1973 and played his entire 14-year career with the team. He was a three-time All-Pro selection. In 2014, he became the first player to make be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame exclusively for his punting.
"Ray Guy was a football player who punted," the late John Madden said in 2014 before he presented Guy for induction into the Hall of Fame.
Guy was selected to the NFL’s 75th anniversary team and the 1970′s all-decade team. He was a three-time Super Bowl champion and seven-time Pro Bowl selection.
The yearly award that goes to the best punter in college football is named after Guy, who also became first punter ever inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2004.
Madden said the first time he watched Guy punt in practice for the Raiders, he knew the team had something special.
"He punted the longest, highest footballs that I had ever seen," Madden said then.
A native of Thomson, Georgia, William Ray Guy became a multi-position and multi-sport star at Southern Miss.
Guy played defensive back for the Golden Eagles and still shares the school single-season record for most interceptions with eight in 1972. His 61-yard field goal at Utah State that season set an NCAA record at the time.
He averaged 44.7 yards per punt for his career, which remains a school record, and as a pitcher on the baseball team Guy threw one of six one-hitters in school history.
In 2015, Southern Miss renamed the street outside The Duff Athletic Center on its campus "Ray Guy Way."
Guy ended his NFL career in 1986 with a streak of 619 punts without having one blocked. But it took nearly three decades for him to be selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
He was a finalist for induction seven times starting in 1992 without being voted in and didn’t even make it that far on other occasions.
"That kind of bothered me because they were saying that’s not a position, it doesn’t take an athlete to do that, it’s not important," Guy said before his Hall of Fame induction in 2014.
"That’s what really got under my skin. It wasn’t so much whether I did or didn’t. I wish somebody had. It was just knowing that they didn’t care.
"That’s what kind of frosted me a little bit."
Guy in many ways revolutionized the position.
His kicks went so high that one that hit the Superdome scoreboard 90 feet above the field in a Pro Bowl helped put "hang time" into the football vernacular. His ability to pin the opponent deep with either high kicks or well-positioned ones was a key part of the success for the great Raiders teams of the 1970s and 80s.
"It was something that was given to me. I don’t know how," he said. "I’m really blessed in that category. It’s something I really appreciate and I advanced it and I made it into something great."
Guy’s statistics look somewhat pedestrian compared to today’s punters. His career average of 42.4 yards per kick ranks 61st all time and his net average of 32.2 yards (excluding his first three seasons when the statistic wasn’t kept by the NFL) isn’t even in the top 100.
Yet, he still is considered by many as the best to ever play the position.
"He really set a precedent for punters being assets to their teams and I’m just really happy to be living in the shadow of what he established," Panthers four-time All-Pro punter Johnny Hekker said.
Southern Mississippi said funeral arrangements for Guy were pending.