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What Baugh and Guy didn't have in common was membership in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Baugh, who died last December at age 94, was enshrined as a quarterback in 1963. Guy's omission, pro punters and kicking coaches argue, is evidence that even people close to the game, such as some of the 44 media representatives who make up the Hall of Fame's Board of Selectors, minimize the punter's importance. "This is the man who paved the way for the rest of us," Lechler says of Guy. "He played 14 seasons without much drop-off in performance. But forget the stats. Ray did things that nobody had ever seen a punter do before. I can imagine how cheated he must feel."
One Hall voter, washingtonpost.com columnist Leonard Shapiro, says, "I've often sat in the final meeting and wondered why Ray Guy can't get enough votes. There seems to be some feeling that because he's on the field so infrequently, how do you put a part-time player in the Hall with guys playing regular positions?" Shapiro says Guy routinely makes it to the final 25 names on the ballot—as he has this year—and occasionally to the top 15, "but when it comes to cut-down time, for many of my colleagues it seems easier to scratch the special-teamer than a starter on offense or defense."
Peter Finney, a New Orleans Times-Picayune columnist and longtime voter, says he has supported Guy for years. "But the opposition against him always comes down to this: 'He's a punter,'" says Finney. "You could put a better measuring stick on a placekicker, who won X number of games, see? But Ray Guy.... How many games did he win by dropping the ball in the coffin corner and putting a team in bad field position? The toughest position to sell is punter."
Take a Hike
Being unappreciated, any punter will tell you, is only one part of the job description. Another, apparently, is being disposable.
Last year Donnie Jones, now with the Rams, led the league in gross average with 50.0 yards per punt, a remarkable total that fell less than two yards shy of Baugh's record. But only four years before, as a rookie with the Seahawks, he was almost run out of the league after a weak performance against Miami that included that infamous shank. "I had a 27-yard net average that day," he says. Jones left the stadium and drove home with his fiancée, who tried in vain to comfort him. His mother and father called and made an effort to cheer him up, but he was inconsolable. "I didn't want to go out again," he says. "I knew that as soon as I got to the facility they were going to cut me."
Jones arrived for the team's first meeting three days later and spotted the pro personnel director. "He says, 'Hey, Donnie, you got a minute? We need to go upstairs and talk,'" Jones says. He was cut from the active roster and placed on the practice squad. He didn't play in another game that year, and the next summer the Seahawks released him. He might've been done with football had Dolphins coach Nick Saban, who'd coached Jones at LSU, not claimed him off waivers.
"My first three years in the league I was way too hard on myself," says Jones. "I watched way too much film. I overanalyzed and nitpicked. I'd do as many as 300 drops a week. Then these last few years I've taken on a different attitude. Now it's like, You know what? Screw it. And I just go out and kick."
If All Else Fails ...
Greg Montgomery, who punted for three teams in a nine-year NFL career that ended after the 1997 season, offers his own story as testament to what the punter must endure. Before his last full season as a pro Montgomery learned he had bipolar disorder, an illness marked by extreme emotional highs and lows. It's hard enough for punters without health problems to withstand the psychological horrors that come with the position. Montgomery struggled. "I'd even get stressed out in practice," he says of his time with the Oilers, Lions and Ravens. "When they'd blow the whistle for punt team, my heart would start beating. I'd say to myself, Dude, you've got to relax. These guys want you to do well. But it didn't help."