CANTON, Ohio -- It turns out that Ray Guy was on a mission here at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. As the first punter to gain a bronze bust in his sport's most exclusive room, Guy wanted to make certain he is not the last.

"Back in January, a lady came up to me at a banquet," the former Raider said in his Saturday night induction speech. "She told me that the biblical meaning of the number eight on my jersey meant 'A New Beginning.' If that's true, then I'd like my enshrinement and number eight to represent a new beginning for punters in the Hall of Fame."

Guy then paused for the punch line.

"It's been long, long overdue," he said. "But now the Hall of Fame has a complete team."

CANTON, OH - AUGUST 2: Former NFL punter Ray Guy, left, poses with his bust and former coach John Madden, right, during the NFL Class of 2014 Pro Football
CANTON, OH - AUGUST 2: Former NFL punter Ray Guy, left, poses with his bust and former coach John Madden, right, during the NFL Class of 2014 Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony at Fawcett Stadium on August 2, 2014 in Canton, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) ( Jason Miller )

The crowd of some 10,000 applauded loudly. If there was a more effective way of explaining why Guy's induction was an important milestone as well as a behind-schedule honor, it's difficult to think of one.

Guy retired from the NFL after the 1986 season. He waited nearly three decades as the Hall of Fame panels debated the worthiness of inducting a punter before he finally received the invitation that he had quietly coveted with some frustration. Claude Humphrey, the defensive end who had to wait even longer for his Saturday induction, acknowledged in his speech that each year when he failed to be elected, he and his wife would have a crying session together.


Advertisement

The 64-year-old Guy never owned up to tears over his previous snubs -- but it was clear Saturday night that he was ready for his big moment in every way.

As were his friends and fans. After an afternoon of rain and some lightning, the atmosphere cleared and fans filled up most of Fawcett Stadium, the high school field that adjoins the Hall of Fame. They included numerous Raiders followers in full silver-and-black gear, as well as former teammates and coaches. The late Al Davis' wife, Carol, also attended along with son Mark.

But the happiest group was sitting about 20 rows from the big stage erected in one of the stadium's end zones. These people were Guy's people. They were from Hattiesburg, Mississippi. That's where he attended the University of Southern Mississippi and where he still lives.

The Hattiesburg posse was beside itself with pride awaiting Guy's appearance as the fifth of Saturday's seven inductees.

"Where we live, he's the go-to guy for anything you need," said Ken Brown, who owns a restaurant and says he can always count on Guy to come by and shake hands or sign autographs for fundraisers or visits by businessmen who are contemplating an investment in Hattiesburg.

"One time, I forgot to make the call to Ray about a function -- and he called me instead to ask if I needed him to be there," Brown said. "Last winter, Southern Mississippi's basketball team had a 'Ray Guy' night at one game, and he gave a speech where he talked so personally about what the school meant to him. There wasn't a dry eye in the place. I felt fortunate to be there that night for that speech, and I feel fortunate to be here for this one."

Saturday's words by Guy were carefully scripted and perhaps not as emotional as that evening. But he hit every correct note with grace and humility, as smoothly as he boomed all those kicks during his 14 NFL seasons beginning in 1973 when he became the first punter ever selected in the first round of the college draft.

John Madden, Guy's first coach with the Raiders, presented him with videotaped remarks ("When you have a guy who was the best to play that position, he's a lot more than just that position"), and then the two men hugged before Guy began his remarks, looking natty in his new gold Hall of Fame jacket and neatly trimmed gray goatee.

"Man, am I glad to be here tonight," Guy began, drawing chuckles from other Hall of Famers on the stage who were well aware of his long wait. "It's been a long and winding road ... But I have finally made it."

Guy thanked his family members and saluted his deceased college coach, P.W. Underwood, and Al Davis, before speaking with humor about his childhood growing up in Georgia when his parents came to watch him first play football and his mom was so scared about his health that she kept her eyes closed.

"I figured out why dad would never sit with her," Guy said. "It was because she kept beating on him and asking him what was going on."

Over the remainder of his 14-minute speech, Guy homed in on the theme of his position being a legitimate part of football -- and acknowledged the dozen or so former NFL punters who had decided to attend Saturday's induction in his honor, a worthy tribute.

"Punters are a very important part of the team, regardless of how many times they step onto the field," Guy said. "It only takes one play to change the outcome of a game. So punters, keep the faith."

Tom Flores, who was Guy's coach for the last eight years of his Raiders career, was sitting near the stage and nodded at that sentiment.

"Ray was a great athlete, not just a great punter," Flores said.

Not too bad a speechmaker, either. Just as in his precedent-setting and memorable career, Guy nailed it.

Contact Mark Purdy at mpurdy@mercurynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MercPurdy.

INSIDE

Class of 2014 shares tears, laughs. PAGE 3