Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Putting the "Foot" in the Pro Football Hall

While tens of millions of Americans are huddled around ginormous plasma televisions on Super Bowl Sunday, I will be sitting in a mostly empty Roman Catholic Church fulfilling my weekly obligation.

The Super Bowl for this football fan isn’t very “super” if the New Orleans Saints aren’t playing. Beyond seeing the latest talent offered by the nation’s marketing minds, a Black and Goldless Super Bowl is a reenactment of the Hall of Fame game involving two teams I am indifferent towards.

The big excitement for me this weekend is when the inductees for the 2011 enshrinement class for the Pro Football Hall of Fame are announced on Saturday.

There’s no shortage of outstanding athletes being considered for gridiron immortality, though I will be rooting the most for longtime Saints tackle Willie Roaf.

Until linebacker Rickey Jackson was finally voted in last year, many Saints fans pegged Roaf to be the first “True Dat” to have his bust unveiled in Canton, Ohio. Hopefully Roaf will be the “Two Dat”.

Roaf, one of the best offensive lineman to play the game, is assured of election, either this year or in the future when there isn’t such a glut of talented players up for consideration.

However I would like to take this opportunity to beat the drum a bit for someone who isn’t a finalist for the hall but is certainly induction worthy, punter Ray Guy.

Guy was a semifinalist this year but missed out on the last cut.

Punters aren’t the stars of the game as they’re more likely to make a highlight reel by running down a punt returner than by excelling at their job.

Though punters don’t score points but they can determine an opponent’s field position through the distance, accuracy and hangtime of their kicks.

A good punter can neutralize a return threat by booting the ball out of bounds at the ideal hash mark or buy enough time for the coverage to force a fair catch.

I remember when Saints fans went apoplectic when the team drafted a punter in 2009, though that pick turned out to be a stroke of genius that paid dividends throughout the season especially in Super Bowl XLIV, though Tom Morstead’s critical play was not a punt. Still, “ambush” proved that not all big plays come in the form of immaculate receptions, broken tackle touchdown runs and pick-sixes.

Ray Guy was the first punter ever picked in the first round (23rd overall selection in the 1973 Draft). The Southern Miss product was an All-Pro for six straight seasons and played in seven Pro Bowls. The career Raider also has three more Super Bowl rings than Dan Marino.

I know, that’s not nice but then again neither is denying Guy his rightful place in the Pro Hall of Fame for all of these years.

Add to Guy’s resume the following: he never had a punt returned for a touchdown and hitting the video screen gondola that formerly hung from the center of the Louisiana Superdome during the 1976 Pro Bowl.

Guy’s feat of foot reemerged in the news last year when Tennessee Titans punter A.J. Trapasso hit the giant video screen suspended over the field during an exhibition game in new Cowboy Stadium.

Prior to the 2010 NFL season opener in New Orleans, I had the opportunity to chat with Hall of Fame running back Marcus Allen. I asked him about whether he thought his fellow Raider deserved enshrinement, which Allen answered in the affirmative.

During Saints training camp I asked Morstead the same question. He also concurred.

There isn’t a single pure punter in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There are only three placekickers.

It seems that the hall voters keep forgetting the first four letters of the game’s name, which is disrespectful to the position and the athletes who play it. One wonders if a mascot will make it into the hall before a punter does.

While punters and kickers don’t “look” like football players, they do win games.

Ray Guy deserves this long overdue honor as does the position he played better than anyone else.

So good luck Willie on Saturday and better luck for Ray in 2012.

I'll even say a prayer to Saint Jude's intercession on Super Sunday.

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