If there was ever a Ray Guy fan club, there’s no doubt who would be president.
Aside maybe from family, Guy doesn’t have a bigger fan than Prokicker.com founder Rick Sang, who befriended him in 1994 and has developed a 20-year lasting relationship with one of the newest Pro Football Hall of Fame selections.
But Sang and Guy actually go back farther — a lot farther. Guy just never knew it at the time.
Guy was on a made-for-television punting competition with other NFL players in 1973 when Sang’s late father, Bob Sang, who spent 50 years as a high school football coach, told him to come watch a competition on television between NFL punters.
“Ray was in it,” Sang said. “He won that punting competition years ago. That’s when I started watching him and reading about him.”
Truth be told, Sang became almost obsessed with Guy, the trailblazing punter who established another first on Saturday when he was the first pure punter elected to the Hall of Fame. He stopped playing in 1987 after a career that included three Super Bowl titles with the Oakland Raiders but it took 27 years to crack the door open to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Sang almost became a Guy Groupie when he was younger. He dropped his “allegiance” to the Dallas Cowboys and became an Oakland Raiders fan — all because of Ray Guy — during a time when the Raiders were an NFL force with a little bit of an edge.
“Hang time came into play and that was my prime time in high school,” Sang said. “I was punting for the (Ashland) Tomcats. I set my aspirations high. I saw Ray Guy and he inspired me there. He was flat out the best ever.
“I remember we had SRA reading laboratory and I loved Bob Hayes because he was the fastest human in the world.
“Then Ray Guy came along.”
Sang was a star for the Tomcats state championship team in 1975 as a receiver and punter, a punter who modeled himself after Ray Guy. Sang was good, too, good enough that Eastern Kentucky University offered him a college scholarship as a receiver and punter. He was a member of the Colonels’ national championship team in 1979 and also later coached at EKU.
Ray Guy, meanwhile, was on his way to changing how everybody looked at punters in the NFL with his booming punts and directional kids. The phrase “Hang Time” was developed because of Guy.
Sang remembers when he was a sophomore at EKU traveling with some teammates to Cincinnati to watch the Bengals play the Oakland Raiders on Monday Night Football. They arrived a few minutes after the game started, having left as soon as EKU’s practice was over, but got there in time to see Guy boom a 60-yard punt at Riverfront Stadium.
They worked their way down toward the field and after the game saw the Raiders coming out of the tunnel before boarding the bus to the airport. There was his idol, Ray Guy, in blue jeans and cowboy boots. Sang, who had just turned 20 but remained in awe, held out a piece of paper for him to autograph.
“He doesn’t remember giving me the autograph but he did,” Sang said. “I still have it.”
Sang watched Guy’s career with the Raiders and always considered him the NFL’s greatest punter and a lock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame the year he became eligible, which was 1992.
“When his name came up, I was like unanimous, it’s a done deal,” Sang said. “Then I couldn’t believe it. If you would have told me it would be 22 years before he made it, I would have never believed it.”
Sang said even though Guy wasn’t in the Hall of Fame, sportswriters at Prokicker camps who interviewed him always thought he was. “They’d start out, ‘Well, Ray you’re in the Hall of Fame’ and he would have to say ‘Guys, I’m not in the Hall of Fame.’ I saw that happen to him numerous times. That was part of the complacency of not voicing views. They couldn’t believe he wasn’t in.”
Guy, 64, was a finalist seven times but never received the 80 percent of the vote needed with a few detractors feeling like the punter wasn’t a position that deserved HOF status. His time eventually ran out as a player but this year he became a senior nominee along with former Falcon defensive end Claude Humphrey, who also was selected.
Sang, who started the Prokicker camps with Guy in 1995 in Redlands, Calif., said he was personally contacted by NFL punters Nick Harris, Brandon Fields and Andy Lee on Saturday night to offer praise for Guy. They understand who put punting on the map.
Former Pro Bowl punter Rich Camarillo also checked in with Sang to pass along congratulations to Ray Guy. He calls Guy “the Babe Ruth of punters and somebody who absolutely had to be in the Hall of Fame.”
“It’s great that all these players have so much respect for Ray,” Sang said. “Deep down they may all aspire to get through that door, too.”
Ray Guy made it easier for all of them with Saturday’s selection.
“He’s been the pioneer of punting his whole life, so many firsts,” Sang said. “He’s done it again.”