One-on-One with Ray Guy

Alan Ross spoke with Class of 2014 Enshrinee Ray Guy to develop an article featured in the Pro Football Hall of Fame 2014-15 Yearbook. Here you can read a transcript of their conversation where Guy talked about Sammy Baugh, his lone attempt at kicking an extra point and his relationship with Walter Payton. Guy, a 14-year veteran of the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders, is the first “pure” punter to earn election into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Ray Guy on Sammy Baugh, the two-way players that punted, the fine art of punting, and his mystical 8 jersey number:

Alan Ross: How well did you know Sammy Baugh?

I met him a couple times. The time I really sat down with him and got to know him was back when he was celebrating his 93rd birthday (2007). Rick Sang, who runs my kicking academies, had met Sammy before. When Rick found out they were going to celebrate Sammy’s 93rd birthday, he asked if I wanted to go. I flew and met Rick in Dallas, and we drove on out to Sammy’s ranch somewhere out in the middle of Texas. I wasn’t sure where in the hell I was going.

AR: Yeah! Rotan, Texas. Way out in southwest Texas.

GUY: Way out in nowhere. We spent pretty much half a day with Sammy. We talked, one former football player to another. We had a lot in common, not only from the punting standpoint but actually playing, too. I did that (played a position in addition to punting) all the way through high school and college. Of course with the Raiders I was strictly a punter and a kickoff man. We had a lot to talk about. He was very adamant at that time—disgusted, you might say—talking about people’s mentality today, [how they] downgrade the punters and the kickers, saying it’s not really a position or that it basically doesn’t take an athlete to perform that art. Well, Sammy and I really got into it, because we know different. Because we played ball; we played offense and defense, and we did all the kicking. We know how important it is to the team. We talked about a lot of things, kind of compared the lifestyles and how we grew up. I lived on a farm, too, 350 (acres). Sammy had four times as much as that. But the background was the same, and we just sat down and talked like we’d been knowing each other all our lives.

AR: I had the opportunity to interview Sammy four or five times before he died. I recently pulled out an interview I did with him in 1998, and Ray, I don’t know if he took any of your time that day to lavish praise upon you, but if he did not, I’d like to read this quote to you that he gave me back in 1998. We were talking about the punting records as they existed [then], and he was of the belief that a kicker from Denver would one day break all the records, of course because of the altitude situation there. Then he went on: “You know,” he said, “Ray Guy. He was a helluva punter, he was a great punter! I thought he was the best-looking punter I ever saw. I thought he would break all the damn records, to tell you the truth, but he didn’t. (Guy laughs.) If he’d have played for Denver, I guarantee you he’d have broken all the records. I watched him all the time. He was the best-looking kicker—his motion, stepping up, kicking—he did it great. He’s the best damn kicker I ever saw.”

GUY: Well…but you know, I don’t have a lot of records, to be honest with you. I’ve got some, and I really couldn’t tell you what they are. But one reason being is, I didn’t care. To me, a record gives the team and gives the individual that’s performing that art at that particular time an idea of how they are progressing. I threw out the individual stats and things ’cause I was a team player. That’s the way I always was, and that’s the way Sammy was. You come up through a small high school, you play both sides of the ball. That’s all you have ever known in your life. Back in Sammy’s day, players basically played the whole game. I told Sammy, “Sammy, I can hit the ball 70 yards. But what good’s that going to do me if the guy returns it 45?” I have not won anything. I have lost. One, we pretty much lose field position, but we maybe also lose the game. And I don’t think that it would’ve happened, but I didn’t want to lose the respect of my teammates. I go and knock the hell out of people ’cause I’m a defensive back. That’s what I played in college.

I sacrificed [my yardage] to help my team get in a position to win a game. That’s the way I’ve always done it. And if I was still in the game, I’d do the same thing.

(He jumps back to his visit with Sammy Baugh) Yeah, we had a great time. The man really inspired me. Of course, I wasn’t playing then, but he inspired me to still learn. I’m 64 years old. I still learn.

AR: In the research I concluded recently for the 2014-15 Pro Football Hall of Fame Yearbook article on HOF position players who also punted and/or kicked, I came across outlying qualifiers like Walter Payton, who punted one time in his whole career for Chicago, and Deacon Jones, who placekicked one time, in the last game of his career. And I noticed that you had attempted a solitary placekick in 1976. I don’t think it was converted.

GUY: No, I actually missed it. It was in Oakland. When [George] Blanda retired, the Raiders brought in a placekicker—Fred Steinfort. He pulled a thigh muscle in his plant leg, and it was one of those deep ones. That thing began to swell from inside out, and those kind are the worst kind of bruises. He couldn’t do it (kick the extra point). It was at the end of the game, and I went in. I hit it, I got it up; shoot, I hit it good…but it went to the right. (He laughs) Then I think, the next week, we made a trade to get Errol Mann. That was in ’76, and we won the Super Bowl in ’76.

(NOTE: Mann came in a late October trade with Detroit in 1976 and helped Oakland to its NFL title that season. The game that Guy is referencing, in which Steinfort’s leg injury pressed Guy into placekicking duty, was the Oct. 24, 1976, 18-14 Raiders victory over Green Bay, in what would have been the final point of the game. Oakland scored three touchdowns and missed all three extra-point attempts, two by Steinfort, and Guy’s lone career kick. A week later, on Halloween, Mann kicked two field goals in his Oakland debut, a 19-6 victory over Denver.)

GUY: Yeahhh, I don’t go tellin’ that (about the missed extra point). “I tell ’em, ‘Yeahhh, I made it!’” – my one inglorious opportunity. (Laughter)

AR: Well, it’s funny, because you and Jan Stenerud are the only two [full-time] kicking specialists in the Hall. I researched Jan, and in a game against you guys in 1976, the same year that you missed the extra point attempt, he actually punted for the only time in his career. It was a 28-yarder.

GUY: Is that true?

AR: Yeah…the second time you guys played, it was in the November [14] game. My thinking was, maybe he was attempting a field goal and the snap was bad, went past him, and he might’ve just picked it up and kicked it, you know. That might’ve been what happened.

GUY: Yeahhh…he might have, and that would have been an obvious thing (the bad snap scenario), but my memory is not like it used to be. If he lined up in kick formation to start with, what you just mentioned would probably be the scenario as to the reason he did that. Being a soccer player, he was able to run outside, like they do now with the rugby kick.

(Guy changes topic to Walter Payton.) Yeah, I remember Walter…oh, that Walter was a piece of work. He and I would hang around together in the offseason here in Hattiesburg. Oh, he just stayed on me. (Simulating Payton): “Aww, man I can out-punt you any day,” and this ’n that ’n the other. Yeah, I talked to him. “Walter, bring it on, brother! (Laughter) Walter, best thing for you to do is keep running the ball. Don’t worry about who punts it.” (More laughter) We had a lot of great times with Walter. I miss that. We’d gotten to know each other real well. We came back from Oakland and my son wasn’t a year old. We were down at the attorney’s office, and Walter was there. He took my son and held him; I’ve got all kind of pictures of him holding him. In fact, he gave my son one of his jerseys that said “Sweetness” on it. We go back. A lot of the older guys, we’re still close friends, we’re still a fraternity. Even though we may not have played on the same team, we played in the same NFL, back when everything was still calm and it was a fun game. There was no animosity anywhere amongst the players. We were just family. And it still is.

AR: I know you were an outstanding, in fact, an All-America defensive back at Southern Mississippi. But if you were back in this by-gone era that Sammy Baugh was from, you obviously would’ve seen yourself as a combination two-way safety and quarterback, I’m sure.

GUY: Sure.

AR: I’d read somewhere where the Raiders worked you out as an emergency backup quarterback. Did you ever get to see any game action? Even a snap?

GUY: The only time I ever took a snap, we were up in Detroit playing the Lions, in the old stadium way out wherever it was. (NOTE: The Silverdome, Pontiac, Mich.) It was one of them games where our offensive line couldn’t block water. It was like the Hoover Dam springing a leak. They just kept comin’ through; Bubba Baker and all them. It was right before halftime, and Tom [Flores, the Raiders’ head coach] said, “Let’s try that Hail Mary.” So I go running in – I worked out at quarterback during the week, and I did that for the last five years I played; I was the third-string quarterback. I took the snap, got back at the regular depth, and danged if Bubba Baker didn’t knock the crap out of me. Then he fell on top of me. I was lyin’ there and lookin’ up at him, and all I could see was teeth. I said, “Bubba, my one opportunity in the NFL to throw a ball and you don’t let me do it!” He just grinned and laughed. So, that was my first and last time of taking a snap.

Comin’ up through the ranks, like Sammy [Baugh] did, you play both sides of the ball and you play it all the time; you never come out of a game. It just gets built into you. Yeah, I would’ve played [both ways in the old NFL]. There’s no more two-position players – what do they call it, ironmen? – but I really wanted to play when I got with the Raiders, so what I did was I became involved. I knew my responsibility as a punter; I kicked off for the first five years, which was good, ’cause I’d done that, too, did it all my life. Later on I got involved in practices, playing defense for offense or offense for defense. I became another part of that team instead of a punter, which in turn kept me more in tune with what was going on during the week: What are we trying to do [to prepare] for the opposing team we’re going to play on Sunday? I always wanted to keep up with that, because then I’m not lost when game time comes around. I know what to expect. Not only does the team have a game plan, I’ve got one too. When my time comes, I’m ready. Tom [Flores] might ask, “Awright, Ray, what’re you gonna do with it [punt-wise]?” And I’ll tell ’em. They didn’t tell me, they asked me. That puts confidence in the individual that doesn’t get to participate a lot. So, I was in the flow.

AR: You know, Sammy mentioned in that interview I’ve referred to – when they played two ways back in his day – that by the middle of the fourth quarter, everyone was gassed on the field. You played two ways – certainly, at least, in high school and maybe even in college some – and if he were alive I would have loved to ask Sammy [also]: Did it affect your kicking any to play both ways, let alone one position, or do you think you were able to get the most out of your kicks just by being a specialist?

GUY: I don’t think it would [affect the punting]. Your body gets trained to the condition that you’re participating in. I don’t think I would’ve got burned out or winded or got real tired, because the body is in shape and it’s trained to do a certain thing for however long it takes to do that. You’re so involved in the game that your adrenaline is flowing, so I don’t think being tired would bring any downfall to my productivity. And the same way with Sammy. I’m sure it is, ’cause your body’s trained to do that. There’s nothing that’s going to stop it, as long as you’re competing on the field of battle. Your body’s still going to go.

AR: Sammy told me at those times when all his linemen were gassed, he was not. After he would punt the ball, he said, “The linemen couldn’t even move downfield, so I would pick a hole and sprint downfield. I was always the third man down on the ball.” I guess along with the two gunners on the side, or the ends then. This would be in the fourth quarter. He was still able to operate at a high level.

GUY: I was too. It took me a couple of years, especially on the kickoff. In high school and college, when I started my approach to the ball, and I hit it, my momentum was still going forward, so I just went on down the field, where I’m supposed to hang back. As a safety…shoot…I’m down inside the 20 making tackles! I kind of had to put governors on me. You know the thing is, once the ball is punted, now I become another player. Once I’ve punted, once that ball leaves my foot, I become a defensive player, which is a natural thing for me. I would read the return on my flow down the field, and I would mirror the returner. I knew what they were going to do before they even did it, because I studied the films on them, and I knew every alignment. If somebody was out of alignment, something was fixin’ to happen. Like the side of the field they were going to set that wall up on. I would mirror the returner, and just as soon as he would break in behind his wall…well, I’d be standing there. So, what the opposing teams had to do, whereas they used to kind of disregard the kicker, then they had to start accounting for me. Man, I used to hit them guys right in the chest, like we were taught in college. Now you can’t even touch ‘em hardly. You whisper on ’em, and they’ll fall down and start complaining. (Laughter) 

AR: Just listening to you and hearing your approach to “the flow,” as you described…I think most people tend to think that the specialists just take their place on the sideline and only come out when they need to respond.

GUY: That has been pretty much the norm for many, many years. I know the guys back in the era that I played, now, a lot of them would hit you. But [today’s] young athletes, they wouldn’t do that. I actually went through tackling drills. But that’s just an ole defensive guy. If I could still move around, I’d probably still hit somebody. (Laughter) But anyway, Sammy and I pretty much had a lot in common.   

AR: (Goes into the controversial movement that has risen in some quarters to try and do away with the extra point; also mentions the online blog in The New Yorker that promoted doing away with punting on fourth down.) They obviously never heard of the importance of field position and the weapon that was the quick kick.

GUY: I’m with you on that. Leave it the way it started in [1892]. It’s a physical game, it’s gonna be physical. I don’t care what you try to change on how to tackle somebody, you’re gonna get hurt. If you want to change something then slow down the workout habits. Don’t let ’em get so big. I remember Al [Davis, the late Raiders principal owner and managing general partner], he hated people at 300 or over. Now they’ve got running backs almost 300 pounds and they can fly. I can imagine me coming up from the free safety spot to plug that hole on a fullback dive. I don’t know, I might jump out of the way then. (Laughter) But I wish they’d leave it alone. What’re you gonna do, go for two every time? I don’t know what their thinking is, I really don’t.
AR: I don’t think the answer is to put more points on the board. I remember when you watched a great defensive game; well, it was a great game too. Not just how many points were up on the scoreboard.

GUY: I love the game, I played it all my life, but I’m not really what you’d call a fan of watching it. If I’m not participating in it, it doesn’t interest me to sit around and watch it. It’s hard for me, knowing that I can’t be a part of that. But then to have to watch somebody else? No, it’s tough.

AR: At your kicking academies, do you actually punt? (Guy is a partner in The Ray Guy Kicking Academy/, which conducts two-day punting camps across the country.)

GUY: (Laughing heartily) No, no…I don’t even remember the last time I punted the ball. The kids, they keep on me all the time about that. “C’mon, coach, punt one for me!” I tell ’em: “Look, when we go in to watch film, I’m going to show you me punting it. That’s as far as I’m going to go.” Now I tell you what, I wish I could [punt], because there are times when a visual instruction is better than a vocal one. The kids can see it then and visualize it. But I teach it in a way that’s very simple, because I’m not what you’d call a high-tech guy; I’m a very simple person. I believe in taking God-given natural ability, making small adjustments in certain things, then letting your body take over. Because if that’s what it was made for, if it’s what you’re supposed to do, let it be natural. When you start making it complicated, you start thinking too much. And you’re not supposed to think. You’re supposed to react. It’s all rhythm, it’s all timing. That’s what I try to teach ’em. I know it’s helped them over the years, because I’ve got a ton out there that went on to great things as a punter and kicker. I’m like a father – my kids have grown up and they’ve gone on to bigger and better things, so I’m proud of ’em.

AR: You sound like just the perfect guy I’d want to have teaching me how to punt.

GUY: I’ll tell you, though, if I was going to really get to teach, I’d want the kids around 5 or 6 years old. Reason being is, at that age, there’s no bad habits. They have no clue what they’re doing. But still they want to do it. So you take them at that age and kind of mold them as you go.

AR: As so many people I’m sure have said to you about your upcoming induction: long, long, long overdue, Ray.

GUY: It is. It’s been a long road, I can tell you that. But we finally got to the destination. It’s surprising, as I travel across the country, the number of people that’s adamant about me not going in early. With them behind me, knowing that they’re there, still pushin’ and talkin’, it made it easier to continue.

(NOTE: Ray closed the interview with two quick tales about the magic of the jersey numbers he has worn, as told to him in two separate accounts.)

GUY: I was number 44 in college and high school. Then I got number 8 [with Oakland]. A lady told me out there, “Your number, your zodiac number is eight.” I said, really? Okay, fine. But the real thing that got me was this past January, when I was in Augusta, Georgia, at my Ray Guy Award banquet there (honoring the nation’s annual top collegiate punter). We were around on a social deal, a meet-and-greet with the sponsors. This lady comes up to me. I guess she had heard me talking about the lady in Oakland. After that she says to me, “Do you know what your number 8 means from a Biblical standpoint?” I said, “Well, no, I didn’t know they had such things.” She said, “They do! The number 8 means a new beginning.” So, when I got the announcement that Saturday up in New York (when he’d been elected to the HOF), that’s what I said, “This is a new beginning.” Everything in my life, from a numbers standpoint, is some form of eight. Maybe we’ve got a new beginning going. All we gotta do is keep it going.

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